Thursday, 26 September 2013

Hello, is it me you're looking for?

I have a friend, Katetastic, who like me is a little older than the main TEFL teacher demographic and, perhaps, this is why when we are together we talk the way we do. I think if anyone had been able to earwig on a recent conversation they'd have been a little shocked by the subject. Our conversation was about pleasures in life and how Westerners, overall, appear to be better at enjoying pleasure than Koreans.

Due to Korea's fast paced lifestyle and work, work, work attitude (as a student or an employee), I think that Koreans have lost some of their ability to enjoy life. Everywhere you go people have their noses in their smartphones, even in coffee shops with friends (guilty as charged). They never turn off or ignore their phones. As a teacher, I know how much time my students spend each day in school with many students attend school from 8.30 in the morning to the same time at night! Very little time is given to them to play. The constant focus on working or studying deprives these younger generations of the value of social interactions and pleasurable activities, whether you do them alone or in groups. Instead to compensate for their hard work, parents present their children with the latest state of the art smartphone as these can help them in their studies and provide some relief to the intensity of the day. I have students who are in 1st Grade (FIRST GRADE) with Smartphones! My first smart phone was at the grand old age of 29. I didn't own a mobile phone until I was in my 2nd year of college and I was 21 at that stage! Granted this was eons ago but it doesn't take away the impact that a mobile phone has on your interpersonal communication skills and behaviour.

As a Speech Communication major this fascinates, and to be honest, kind of appalls me. With all that mobile phones can do, thanks to their many wonderful apps, it sometimes seems as if they've changed communication forever more.
Graduating as a Speech Comm. Major
We seem to interact more with our mobiles than we do our fellow humans. However, if we look at the Shannon-Weaver Model of Communication, we can see that communication  really hasn't really changed. Instead of a human receiver we have an electronic one. These devices can even provide us with feedback!  There are benefits to this, of course: responses to our requests for information are fed back to us is immediately.  We can get a plethora of information on any subject we desire. Airline, concert and train tickets can be booked ahead of time. Without needing a computer, never mind a printout, we can board trains, enter cinemas and even go to restaurants. Music can be listened to and your favourite movies or tv shows are all easily accessible.

 Shannon -Weaver Model - image courtesy of
Even with all the benefits, I would argue that allowing a device to become the sole receiver of a message, we will cause problems in our interpersonal relationships. I would argue that the device has become the noise rather than the channel that feeds the message. As a technology savvy country, Korea encourages it's consumers to buy the latest gadgets and, as everyone uses their mobile phones all the time, most Koreans own the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Thanks to cheap internet rates and the multitude of PC Bangs (internet cafes), the majority of the country spends an awful lot of time on the internet or playing online games. With having a phone that gives notifications everytime a message is received, whether it is a text or a notification from a social website such as Facebook, you are looking at constant interruptions to your social interactions. Even if the message isn't checked immediately, it has caused an interruption. Many apps, such as Kakao, allow a preview of the message to appear on your locked screen, even when the phone is on silent.  This means that even without sound, the flash of the incoming message can distract from conversations as, invariably, you glance down to see who it's from. This leads to you losing focus on the person you are interacting with and your conversation.

With the increasing reliance on devices, Koreans are getting more and more used to instant gratification as pretty much everything that they want is on their phone and any information that they need is instantly sent back to them. I believe that this has caused an expectation of instant gratification in their daily lives - waiting on a message from a friend, public transport, waiting to be served in a the local shop etc. Not only can it cause frustration in how they interact when forced to have delays but it can also detrimentally affect how they interact as there seems to be an innate need to respond to your friends and colleagues instantly without taking time to think of your response. For example, I was asked in September whether or not I plan on staying another year in Korea - 9 full months before my contract ends. I was expected to give an answer right away for something I haven't made a decision on or thought very much about. Thankfully, my co-teacher also thought that I should wait a few months longer to make a decision.

Another way that the push to constantly use your phone is encouraged, is the culture of using public transport in Korea. While people do talk on the subway/bus and train, it is generally in very hushed tones. Those that talk in normal decibels are frequently hushed (yours truly included).  I've sat beside Koreans having full blown conversations on their phone and I haven't been able to hear a word that they said. This means that even friends or family members easily spend the entire ride in utter silence. Instead, they have their noses in their phones or pass the time by sleeping rather than talking.

On my Samsung Galaxy, I not only have the phone's camera but a silent camera, Instagram, Snapchat and several collage makers. I can instantly snap photos at any time that I want. Each app caters to a specific need - the silent camera is great for those sneaky pictures, Snapchat for those funny messages between friends and Instagram for stunning sunsets. Even more important in Korea, is the mandatory selfie. While I have on many occasions have been guilty of attempting and perfecting the selfie, I recognise that it has actually affected my interpersonal relationships. Selfies encourage us to go it alone and, as Elsie Hu said in this NPR article, "The cultural shift is complete. We're all just alone with our smartphones, even when we are surrounded by other humans." Rather than ask someone to take a photo of me standing beside a monument, I will take a picture of myself with only the slightest glimpse of the monument in the background. So instead of having a moment to remember pleasurably, I have a picture of me with the hint of something in the background. When I show those photos to someone else will I be able to remember what that something was and what my feeling were on seeing it?
Recent Selfies
While many things on a smartphone contribute to our entertainment, I don't believe that they necessarily contribute to pleasure in life. The constant interruptions, the intense focus on the phone and the perceived inability to turn it off, has, I believe, negatively impacted Korean's growth in social interactions and pleasure. Korea has grown so much in the last 50 years and as a result they have had to juxtapose traditional values and ways of life against the intense growth in technology, wealth, educational demands and the pressure that is associated with these.

So you might think I'm mad to believe that Korea is somewhat negatively impacted by the strides it has made in becoming a first world country.  You might think I'm mad to believe that the negative impact is directly related to a loss of pleasure and relaxation as well as basic interpersonal skills. You might think I'm mad to frown upon the instant gratification of smart-phones and to even consider them the noise in the Shannon and Weaver model. However, I urge you to think how often you use your mobile phone and what impact it has on your relationships. While I believe that the West is better at having pleasure in our lives, we are increasingly allowing technology to take over. Do I think that smartphones only negatively impact Korea? Definitely not, but until I came to Korea and experienced the abundance of dependence on a device, I never thought of the negative connotations of having a smartphone. One only needs to look at the episode of the Big Bang Theory where Raj falls in love with the Siri app on his iPhone to see how easy it is for anyone, not just Koreans, to become obsessed with their smartphone and to allow it dictate our life.

There is so much to talk about in relation to this subject alone but as this is starting to become an essay and not a blog post I will stop here! Before I stop a huge shout out to my friend, Panama, for all his help and tips for this post, and to my sister, KT, for all her help in reviewing and rewriting this post. Remaining mistakes are all my own!

PS - this post is inspired by a conversation with Katetastic and my dwelling on my one of my favourite college courses - Communication Theory. Further, the title of this post was inspired by Lionel Ritchies' "Hello".
For more information on the Shannon and Weaver Communication Model, please click here. Em Griffin actually wrote the book that I used in college for Communication Theory. He's a legend and (lucky me) he autographed my copy of this book! The image of the model above was taken from

PPS - this post places Korea in a negative light. I want to point out that I know several Koreans who defy the above observations. However, this does not detract from the truth of these general observations on Korea's modern culture and communication style.

PPPS - there is a new watch being unveiled by Samsung and I think that this is, possibly, just another nail in the interpersonal communication coffin of South Korea!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

There's a new celebrity in town!

You might think I'm mad but I recently gave an interview with It was just published. To read my interview please click on the link below:

Expat Interviews

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

It's time to play the "Glad game"

A few months ago a friend challenged me to keep a gratitude journal. I took her up on her challenge but after two weeks, life got hectic again and my gratitude journal fell off.

So you might think I'm mad to even want to try doing this again, but I really like the idea of saying what I am thankful for in my life. One of my favourite stories, and movies, from childhood is Pollyanna. The simple joy that she had as a character came from understanding that if you are thankful for everything in your life you can not be unhappy.

Starting today, for the next 30 days, I will be updating this post on a daily basis with all that I am grateful or "glad" for - whether it is mundane or exciting. After all, so much kindness happens all the time in our daily lives and a lot of time we take that kindness for granted. I recently decided that beauty maybe in the eye of the beholder, but kindess is in the eye of the receiver and the heart of the giver. I think that Pollyanna would be very glad of this view.

“... there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.”  - Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyana

September 3rd, 2013.
I am grateful for the school bus driver. Today my bus from Jochiwon did not get me in with enough time to make the walk from the bus stop in DaePyeongRi to the school bus (around 10 minutes walk and I would have had about the same time before the school bus left) and have time to get a coffee. I chose coffee and to get the city bus to my school. Whilst waiting on this city bus the school bus driver saw me and picked me up! What a nice start to today!

September 4th, 2013
The second day in a row where I am able to post first thing in the morning! Today when I walked in there was a big envelope on my desk. Recognising my brother-in-law's handwriting, I got that thrill of excitement. I noticed that on the packet it said "Jumper" and immediately I remembered that I had left my jumper at home (it got lost at some point!) and so I thought it my jumper. So imagine my surprise and delight when it wasn't my jumper but a lovely one from my sister and that the envelope contained a lovely card from my sister and a beautiful drawing from my nephew! Another great start to my day!

September 5th, 2013
Today, some of my students, who are preparing for a contest, weren't focusing very well in our class. This made me a little frustrated until I remembered that they are just kids. Despite being Korean age 12, they are actually only 10 and no matter how good they are at English,they are entitled to be giddy and unfocused. So, I'm glad and thankful that today reminded me that kids are kids. On a different note, today we celebrated one of my friends' birthdays. She had her birthday whilst the rest of us were on holiday, so today was my gift to her - Mexican inspired food! So, today I'm thankful for good friends, weird chats, funny stories and lots of laughter. I'm also really grateful that my friends think I'm a good cook! Thanks to their encouragement and enthusiasm, I keep cooking elaborate meals on a one ring stove!

September 6th, 2013
Today, I am grateful for many things: I'm grateful for great friends who share an interest in learning and sharing our faith - Bible Study rocks! I'm grateful for FINALLY deleting Facebook from my mobile phone. I have decided to do this for a month and then I will decide if I want it back on my phone. On a different note, on Wednesday I was asked if I'd stay a 3rd year in Korea. I told my co-teacher that I wasn't ready to make that decision now, but that I think I want to move on to another country. As my contract finishes mid-semester, I offered to stay on until the end of August 2014. Sadly, we found out yesterday this wasn't possible. Due to my disappointment, I wasn't originally able to find anything to be glad about. Now I have: What a great way to make a decision - either I stay or go. If I go, a whole new world of opportunity is at my finger tips! Lastly, my sister, Ms Adventure, is currently conducting cake bakes in our local parish to raise money, football boots and school uniforms, for children in Liberia. €125 sends one child to school for a year. She worked there for 3 months last spring and is now headed back again. My brother also went to Liberia to volunteer with the same program. I am so grateful and proud of both of the and their wonderful gift of giving. They inspire me to be so much better than I am.

September 7th, 2013
I'm grateful for new friends and old, good fun and lots of laughs. Thank you, Swaglu for organising the scavenger hunt. I'm grateful for Saturday lie-in's and Skype chats with my family ~ especially my Aunt and Uncle who I haven't seen in a long time!

September 8th, 2013
I'm grateful that I woke up early this morning and was able to get a walk in right away. Today, some friends and I went to Bear Tree Park which is quite a famous park in Sejong. It's even one of the things on my Korean Bucket list, too! I was really enjoying walking around and seeing all the different walkways and plants. It's really well laid out and beautiful. Unfortunately, when you get to the bears your heart just breaks. There are about 100 bears in a really small enclosure. Seeing the amount of room that they have, really gave the trip a sour note for me and my friends. Despite this, I'm still glad that I went there as it gives me an opportunity to inform people of what they are supporting by going there: a huge park full of beautiful trees and plants but only the most minimal space is given to the bears that this park gets its name from. I think that this is extremely sad and hopefully someday soon this changes. I am going to try and find someone I can write to about this.

September 9th, 2013
Today was a quiet day but I still am thankful! I am thankful that one full week of eating breakfast every morning has been accomplished! I usually don't eat breakfast so this is a huge accomplishment for me. I am thankful for a great lesson with my intermediate level class 3rd - 5th Grade. Lastly, I am thankful for chatting with my sisters and getting the good news that almost €4,000 was raised for Liberia Mission Inc. Well done to my family, I am so proud of them and so grateful for the generosity of people!

September 10th, 2013
I'm grateful for my brother whose birthday is today. He's a great kid and really has a good heart. He alsoworked at Liberia Mission Inc for a few months. I'm grateful for excellent students and that all my classes went well today. I'm grateful for lifts from my school to the bus stop - it means I can get home an HOUR earlier than if I wait for the school bus!

September 11th, 2013
The last few days have been about the little things! Today is no different, so far! I'm so thankful one of my classes is cancelled as I can work on some things that I didn't think I'd get to today! The rest of my day was fantastic - my Beginners English class was so much fun and the kids lapped up doing The wheels on the bus. Looking forward to the next class. This evening was spent making crepes, drinking tea, eating chocolate cake and choux with good friends. Cheers, a cailíní!

September 12th, 2013
Today, again, has been great! Wow, I'm so lucky! All my classes this morning were excellent - even the one where the computer decided not to work. The students liked doing the phonics in 3rd grade and could tell the difference between b,p and f,v - we still have some work to do but YAAAY ...go me and go students.

September 13th, 2013.
Yesterday I left my phone in work and I didn't discover it at home. Whilst this is a big inconvenience and annoyance, I am glad to have no phone today as it helps me to appreciate how easy my life is when I have one. Furthermore, no phone = nap on the bus - both ways! Lastly, I'm grateful for a nice dinner and chat with two of my co-teachers in my 2nd school. It was a lovely evening.

September 14th, 2013
I'm thankful for my good friend Rucy Bear and lots of funny chats. I'm really glad that we were able to hangout this weekend go see The Mortal Insturments: City of Bones. It was like being at home with all the Irish accents creeping through and all the Irish connections even by some of the British actors.

September 15th, 2013
I'm grateful that I finally did my laundry! Again, a great day with Rucy Bear - shopping, books and lunch! Plenty of chats and laughs. Yay for weekends and yay for friends.

September 16th, 2013
I was supposed to meet my friend Aletia today but sadly it didn't happen. I did find something to be glad about though...that means I've something to look forward to next week! Can't wait!
I'm grateful for my  present from my school - soap and shampoo galore! I'm grateful for tea and chats with friends and public swing sets. Swinging is so much fun!

September 17th, 2013
I'm grateful that I got home at a decent time today and that I was able to go out for dinner and drinks with my friends who remained in Jochiwon. We'd a great time and a lot of fun.

September 18th, 2013.
Today we left for Seoul. Whilst we had standing tickets some kind old man gave us his seat and an old lady some paper to sit on when we had to sit on the floor. A beautiful day was spent in Insadong and a funevening was spent in Hongdae. Despite getting hit in the head by a shoe (yes you read that correctly!), I'm glad that it happened as it meant I walked back to the hostel with company. For some bizarre reason the guy from the hostel thought it would be a good idea to attract my attention with a shoe!

September 19th, 2013
Today saw us at Lotteworld which is like Disneyworld (so I'm told)! Right down to the shape and style of the logo! It was fun day and despite not being a huge rollercoaster person I had a lot of fun! The girls were great sports and understood my fear! I even managed two rollercoasters - one called the Comet Express, that was actually pretty cool, and Atlantis, which I barely opened my eyes for and I couldn't open my mouth to scream as I thought my stomach would fall out! We headed for Indian afterwards but unfortunately with it being Chuseok nothing was open. We got chicken and beer which always makes for a lovely meal!

September 20th, 2013
A day at the beach was my plan - sitting down, reading and soaking in the view. Unfortunately the beach I chose for us to go to was not very clean....after about an hour we headed back. I got some reading in though - I spent the day finishing a Jeffrey Deaver book which I really enjoyed called the Stone Monkey.

September  21st, 2013
A day reserved for Gauguin! Sadly, this did not surface! The exhibition is there but it would have been a two hour wait to get in! So sad - but there's an excuse to go back to Seoul next weekend for the last stint of this exhibit!

September  22nd, 2013.
I'm grateful for doing nothing. I laid in my bed, I ate leftover pizza and I watched Supernatural for most of the day. It was wonderful! Also, I'm 2/3 of the way through this challenge! GO ME!

September  23rd, 2013
Today was a mixed day. I said goodbye to my sister as she leaves for Liberia. Whilst I'm sad about this, I'm also really glad as she did an amazing job raising money for the children to go to school and got lots of supplies. The goodness of people really touches me. In other news, I'm glad we finally met for the VIP Festival we have on Saturday. Myself and one of my friends are the MC's - this should be interesting! I'm grateful for 5 minutes of swing time in the playground.

September  24th, 2013
I'm grateful for my open class being over with and that it went quite well. I'm grateful for stumbling across biscuits that taste like Jacob's Lemon Puffs and I'm doubly glad that I've never seen them in the shop or I'd be in trouble!

September 25th, 2013
I'm grateful that despite having rehearsal for the VIP English Festival on Saturday, I was able to go home have a little walk and actually do some dishes and reorganising! They feed us pizza which any Italian friend of mine would shudder to eat, but I'm just glad I got food!

September  26th, 2013
Even though I love teaching, I'm glad I had no classes in the morning! It makes for a relaxing day! I'm grateful for my friend, Wishbone, bringing us to a place that has roast duck! Yes, roasted meat in Korea! So wonderful - and it was stuffed with rice, pumpkin and some nuts and veggies! I'm grateful for the same friend introducing me to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Had a great time watching it! Lastly, I'm grateful for my really kind co-teacher who brought me home.

September  27th, 2013
I'm grateful for a really fun day with my students - all classes participated well and had a lot of fun doing simple relay reading games and roleplays. I found out though at 1.05 - 10 minutes before I started teaching for the next 4 hours that I had to do prompt cards for tomorrow's event. I was extremely frustrated as I wouldn't get to do this in school as I teach until the end of the day. However, it was done in the end which meant I could enjoy my relaxation time - How I met your mother with Becks and the swings with Rucy.

September  28th, 2013
I'm grateful that the VIP English festival went really well and that the organisers thought we did an excellent job MC-ing. I'm grateful for time to just hang out with my friends and a little walk with Rucy.

September  29th, 2013.
Suwon fortress was finally seen! Jules and I went here for the day today and had a nice time despite the dampness and sprinkling rain. We didn't do the whole fortress wall as it would have taken more time than we had. We got a little lost, so I am very grateful for people who gave us directions and a fun time at the Toilet Museum! I'm also grateful for getting my floor completely cleaned :)


 September 30th, 2013
Well, today was just lovely. I'm glad for the whole day! Even though I do LOVE teaching it always nice when you have classes unexpectedly cancelled! The weather was amazeballs and I found out that not only do I have Thursday off but I have field trips on Wednesday and Friday! Lastly, thanks to some brilliant friends for a lovely evening of chat, laughter, cake, doughnuts and chai tea lattes!

October 1st, 2013
So much to be grateful for: I was slightly productive in the morning and on returning home from school, my classes all went well and the kids actually enjoyed relay reading. My phonics class highlighted some work that we still need to do but that's great as it means we can do a few game days using "R". The bus ride home was fantastic as Katetastic and I laughed our way through a Buzzfeed article. The evening was spent catching up with old friends and meeting new ones as we sat outside CU drinking and chatting.

October 2nd, 2013
It's the last day. I've really enjoyed this challenge especially since I did stick with it right to the end!  There's a lot to be thankful for and today is no exception. I'm glad that I spend most of my time teaching and not on field trips. Don't get me wrong, field trips are great and it allows for a better camaraderie with my co-teachers and shows me just how much fun and generous my students are. However, I find it way more exhausting to go on a field trip than to teach all day. As soon as we got back to school I had to slug back a coffee!

So, this challenge is at the end and it's been a great achievement! I really enjoyed doing the 30 days of gratitude and it has given me a new appreciation of just how lucky I am. I recommend this exercise to everyone!

Thank you to everyone who has read these posts, participated in making the last 30 days so gratitude filled or encouraged me in this endeavour! Cheers!

PS This post was inspired by Swaglu's challenge and by "glad" Pollyanna.