Over the past year, I’ve worked as a Business English teacher in Hwasung, South Korea. It’s been arduous, hilarious, uplifting, inspiring, educational, and (most times) really, really strange. But I’ve loved it all the same, and I’m grateful for the crazy experiences I’ve had here thus far 🙂
For those of you that follow my adventures on Facebook, you know I’ve kept a little log of my favorite encounters from time to time. Thanks to this log (and some boredom-fueled ugly work selfies) I know have a consolidated little nugget of love to encapsulate my favorite parts of the job.
Until my next adventure in Korea starts in March next year (whatever it may be!) please enjoy this compilation of my Adventures in Business English 🙂
Adventures in Business English #1:
Me: “Hello Mr. Choi! I’m Megan, your new English teacher. Is Mr. Choi okay, or do you prefer another name?”
Mr. Choi, a huge, stoic mechanical engineer in his mid-40’s: “You can call me Cheetos.”
Me: “… Cheetos?”
Me: “Like the snack?”
Me: “Okay, awesome. So you must really like Cheetos?”
Cheetos: “No, I don’t.”
Me: “… So you just like the name?”
Adventures in Business English #2:
Me: “So, what do you like to do to relax?”
Hawkins, an overly-animated Korean man with eyes so big that they seem to simultaneously appear above AND below his glasses: “I like going walks.”
Me: “Ahh, going on walks?”
Hawkins, staring way too intensely: “Yes, on. I like going on walks.”
Me: “That’s a great hobby. Where do you go on walks?”
Hawkins: “By the mountain by my house.”
Me: “Oh wow, that sounds so peaceful! Is that why you like walking there?”
Hawkins, smiling slowly, staring unblinkingly into my eyes: “Yes. I like it because I get… I get my brain sauces on me.”
Me: “… Come again?”
Hawkins: “I get brain sauces. I think better. The sauce flowing.”
After a full minute of disturbing mental images, random guesses, and poorly-stifled laughter:
Me: “Do you mean, ‘It gets your creative juices flowing’..?”
Hawkins: “Yes! That’s it!”
This is my life now.
Adventures in Business English #3:
Imagine, if you will, a happy Megan sitting alone in her classroom waiting for her last student.
Imagine her added glee when she receives a text from that student saying he will be absent that day, giving her a free hour to read a good book and finally relax a little before her ride home arrives.
Imagine her satisfied chuckle as she hears the janitor’s cart speakers blasting Adele’s “Someone Like You” as it does every day around 5:30pm.
Imagine her curious eyebrow raise as she gets the idea to introduce herself to the janitor and relate over mutual Adele love using her broken Korean ability.
Imagine her innocent sashay through the classroom doors and into the hallway as the chorus of the music swells.
Imagine her grin as she begins softly singing along, giving a comfortable glance to the left, looking for the janitor in the darkened room of cubicles.
Imagine her complete and violent shock as a bloodcurdling scream slams into her from the right.
Imagine her anxiety-ridden response scream as she sees a poor man in a light blue Kia Motors jumpsuit plastered back against a desk as if he’s just seen the end of the world as he knows it.
Imagine the truly impressive haste with which her fight-or-flight response flies her back, still screaming, behind her classroom doors in less than 2 seconds.
Imagine the silence, followed by the realization, followed by the insane laughter that disturbingly bubbles out of her mouth as she realizes that a poor Korean man may just have started believing in ghosts — strange, American lady ghosts with spectacular taste in music, particularly.
Imagine her apologetic gait as she peers through the door and steps outside, hoping to clear the air with the kind cleaner.
Imagine the sound of her stomach slamming into the floor as she looks out to see that the janitor, the cart, the light, and Adele, had all vanished, leaving nothing but a silent room of cubicles in her wake.
Imagine her confusion as she questions the superiority of the man’s fight-or-flight response time over her own.
And yet… imagine her wide eyes as she realizes that perhaps she, in a bizarre turn of events, may truly be the one to have started believing in ghosts.
Adventures in Business English #4: The Story of How I Gained 32 New Dads
Me, with the droopy eyes and sore-throated growl of a well-aged Louis Armstrong: “Good morning, Chang.”
Chang: “Good morning. Are you okay?”
Me: “I’m feeling a little sick today. I’m sorry about my voice.”
Chang: “Oh no, I’m sorry. It’s okay.” (reaches into his jacket pocket) “Here, cookie.”
Me: “Wow, you just had that on you. That’s so sweet. Thank you, Chang.”
*1 hour later*
Me: “Good morning, John.”
John: “Hello. What happened?”
Me: “I’m just a little sick today, my apologies.”
John: “Did you sleep? Are you eating? One second.”
(John leaves, and reappears 45 seconds later with a cup of hot lemon tea.)
John: “Here. And here.” (hands me his phone) “This is the humidifier and nose rinse you will buy.”
Me: “Umm… nose rinse?”
John: “Two times a day. Rinse your nose. You don’t rinse your nose. You will buy this and you will rinse your nose.”
Me: “Got it. Thank you, John, that’s very sweet.”
*1 hour later*
Me: “Mr. Jeong? What are you doing here?”
Mr. Jeong: “I heard you were sick. I got you lemon tea. I hope you get some rest.”
Me: “That is so sweet! Thank you!”
*30 minutes later*
Eddy, my lowest level student: “Sick?”
(Eddy starts putting away his things)
Eddy: “I go early.”
Me: “No, it’s okay!”
Eddy: “No. I… need rest.” (leaves)
*1 hour later*
Me: “Chang? You already had class today?”
Chang: “I heard you like lemon tea.” (hands me tea) “And also this.” (hands me another cookie)
Me: “Thank you, Chang.”
Moral of the story: Every single one of my students is wonderful. I am sick as a dog but my heart is full, also much like a dog’s. I love my job.
Adventures in Business English #5: Stop Being So Heartwarming, Damnit
On our last day of class (today), my student Moon Hee came into my classroom with two suitcases, sad to say that he had to leave on a business trip and wouldn’t be able to make our final session. However, he told me he “heard it through the grapevine” (such English teacher pride in that phrase) that it was my birthday on Christmas, so he brought me a gift.
One of my busiest students, a manager of a whole production branch at Kia, took the time to buy me adorable handmade Christmas soaps for my birthday, before his busiest trip of the year.
If only my emotions had an exit other than my eyes. I am fully unequipped to handle unexpected thoughtfulness. Just a weepy, happy little desert dweller in my home away from home.
Adventures in Business English #6:
Me: “Okay! So let’s start by looking at last night’s homework. Can you read the first sentence to me?”
Brad, a 55-year-old quiet engineer with a sheepish grin: “Yes. Number one: ‘He is a kind man.’”
Me: “Perfect! He is a kind man. Number 2?”
Brad: “Yes. Number two: She is as beautiful as a queen.’”
Me: “Oh wow! That is a wonderful sentence. How did you know this phrase?”
Brad, with a small smile: “I thought of you.”
Me: “Oh my goodness.”
Cue to Brad, chuckling like a little boy, while I laughed and fumbled my red-faced way back to the homework assignment.
As it turns out, I am currently teaching 32 dads, and one smooth operator. This class is gonna be… interesting.
Adventures in Business English #9: I’m Too Lazy to Check What Number I Left Off On, So Let’s Say We’re On #9
Shawn, an adorable new father with great English: “Is it easy to know where someone is from in America?”
Me: “Sometimes it is, yes. Usually accents are a good clue.”
Shawn: “So you are from California. Do people know you are from there?”
Me, chuckling: “Yeah, actually they do! At college in Boston, people could usually guess.”
Shawn: “How did they know?”
Me (thinking back to yesterday night, weeping over a bowl of 5-avocado guacamole after 8 months without avocados because they were finally on sale from $4 an avocado to $1.50 an avocado):
“… uhh… probably the accent.”
Adventures in Business English #10: “Success”
Today, one of my highest-level executive students spent his hour-long class describing how he fell out of love with his wife.
When class started, he jokingly talked about how things are hard at home because he only sees his wife twice a week, and how maybe that’s a good thing (they both work full-time, and he is one of the most important people at this branch of the company.) I smiled along, told him I was sure that wasn’t true, and off-handedly asked how he and his wife met.
He paused, pursed his lips, and simply said, “No.”
He spent the next 45 minutes detailing the deterioration of his marriage like he was recalling last night’s football game. It was heartbreaking to watch him tell me about how close they used to be, and how it all changed. He grew obsessed with becoming successful at work, and would spend every waking moment working harder to get ahead. Part of it was for his family — and part of it was his need to improve. Hard nights led to hard drinking, led to more time spent away, led to now. His wife understandably grew frustrated, grew distant, and eventually gave up. After 25 years, the love of this man’s life turned into some that just “knows me very well”.
You couldn’t tell from his smiling expression that it even still pained him. There was such a striking disconnect between the story itself and his comfortable body language, that I couldn’t actually tell if he regretted it or felt anything at all. That was, until the end of the story:
“I used to get up early in the morning to be with her. Every night, even if it was so late, we would talk. This month, it has been two and a half years since I kissed her every night before bed. I don’t think she cares.”
Everyone has their own definition of success. For some people, what my student has is the dream — a wife, two kids, and a near fortune to his name.
But your definition of success can, and should, transform as you do. If isolating yourself from your loved ones to get money is not making you happy, then you are not successful. Just because it is something you wanted before does not make it something you need now.
Sacrifices are necessary. Sacrifices teach us and help us grow stronger. But no sacrifice is worth your health or happiness, never ever ever.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will be telling all of my stuffed animals I love them before laying down and attempting to dream of literally anything happier than this.
Adventures in Business English #11: Get On It, America
On my way to work this morning, I saw an advertisement banner for a car mechanic shop containing only three words in English:
“Clean and romantic”
American mechanics need to step up their game…
Adventures in Business English #12: A Collection of Oddities
It’s been a while, so allow me to divulge the juiciest of Business English updates:
– Two of my students think my name is Marvin. I don’t know if they’re in cahoots but it’s too funny to correct them.
– One of my students Paul will stop at nothing until he converts me to Christianity. His English is very low level, but as soon as he starts talking about Jesus his ability skyrockets. I may or may not be slightly overstating my interest in his religion to convince him to ramble. Then, I just slip in and slyly correct his English while pretending to be fascinated… and it’s working really well?? Yay teaching! Sorry, Jesus!
– Thanks to an unfortunately silent letter “t”, one of my group class students was convinced that I was capable of peeing using a urinal. How we got to this topic is not important.
– I was heading into my temporary classroom (the break room) to prepare for class when I saw a worker sleeping in my seat. I was afraid to wake him up because he looked exhausted, sprawled out on the desk, but I had no where else to teach. I said, “Excuse me…” politely in Korean, and he immediately shot up. He snatched up his jacket, gave a small bow to me, and said, “I’m very fucking sorry,” before hurrying out of the room.
… I’ve yet to hear the word “fucking” used so sincerely before. I think he just really wanted to emphasize the apology.
– One of my students is convinced that I’ve had surgery to enlarge my eyes. Like, my actual eyeballs. He also very much enjoys that my eye bags are now developing their own, smaller eye bags. He’s very keen on telling me that Korean’s advanced skin care products could help my eyes look smaller or cover up the dark circles with make-up. I’m just as keen to remind him that make-up is foreign to me, too expensive, not as interesting as video games, and I like sleeping. My Californian chillness runs deep and true. Besides, my big ol’ raccoon eyes make for some great faces.
Adventures in Business English #13: I’m the Best at Being Healthy (She Said Never)
So, thanks to my awesome brain really coming through once more, I’m back in the hospital for a bit. The worst migraine of my life left me unable to see out of my right eye for a few hours on Tuesday, so it was hospital time. I’m on new medications until next week to hopefully cut down on my anxiety and some brain swelling before they do some more scans on Monday. I’m a bit nervous, of course, but I’m in amazing hands here, and I’m hopeful we’ll get to the bottom of this no matter what.
Thankfully, my students are all very understanding, aside from George… In response to my apology text, all he said was this:
“Feel better. Do it now.”
An order? Encouragement? A prediction? Who’s to say…
Adventures in Business English #14: Nose Farts
Me: “Okay, Paul! Today we’re going to talk about— oh hold on—“ *sneezes twice*
Paul, a 50-something-year-old man that laughs like he’s screaming: *laughs*
Me, holding back profanity after another surprise scream-laugh: “Hoo! Sorry about that! Okay, let’s get started.”
Me: “… why what?”
Paul: “Why sound?” *points to his nose*
Me: “Oh! Sorry, my sneezes are weird.”
Me: “… I sneezed.”
Paul: “… sneeze?”
Me: “You mean… WHY did I sneeze? I… I’m not sure.”
Paul: “Sneeze? What… mean?”
Me: “Oh. Sneeze. To sneeze. Umm…” *furiously researches the word “sneeze” in Korean*
Paul: “Nose… nose… cough?”
Me: “Sort of! Cough is mouth. Cough…” *points to mouth* “Sneeze…” *points to nose*
Paul: *points to nose* “… fart..?”
Me: “I mean… kind of… but… fart…” *points to butt* “Sneeze…” *points to nose*
Paul: “Nose cough… nose fart.”
Me: “SNEEZE, Paul, SNEEZE.”
Paul: “Oh!” *laugh screams* *points to nose* The name?”
Me: “Yes. This sound…” *mimes a sneeze* “This is ‘sneeze’.”
Paul: “Bless you.”
Me: “… thank you…”
Adventures in Business English #15: The Most Beautiful Girl in America
Me: “Hey Justin! It’s nice to see you again.”
Justin: “Hello teacher. It is so nice to see you.”
Me: “You too! It’s been a while.”
Justin: “You look very beautiful always.”
Me: “Oh gosh! Well that’s very sweet, thank you.”
Justin: “The most beautiful girl in America.”
Me: (laughing) “Wow, that’s DEFINITELY not true, but that’s very kind.”
Justin: “Yeah, it’s not true. But I’m a funny guy.”
Me: “… I mean… you didn’t HAVE to agree…”
Justin: “I like Sandra Bullock.”
Me: “Let’s turn to page 38 and look at that homework, butthead.”
(Damn you and your gloriously witty charm, Sandra)
Adventures in Business English #16: A Not-So-Rude Awakening
Two students cancelled unexpectedly this afternoon. I laid my head down for what I thought was a minute or so, and then I woke up about 40 minutes later to the building janitor tapping me on the shoulder.
Me: “… hi!”
Janitor: *motions for me to stand up*
Me: *stands up*
Janitor: *moves my chair, does two small sweeps of the floor, then moves my chair back.”
Me: “… thank you?”
Janitor: *hands me anti-bacterial lotion*
Me: “Oh! Thanks.”
Janitor: *hands me a small cookie from her pocket*
Me: “Oh! Umm, thank you!”
Janitor: *hands me a band-aid*
Janitor: *hands me a single napkin and a receipt from her pocket*
Janitor: *pats me on the shoulder* Sleep.
Me: “… right.”
Still not quite sure I’m awake yet…
Adventures in Business English #17: Accidentally Poignant
Me: “So Howard, this is a good place to use a transition phrase. Saying things like ‘In my opinion’ or ‘On the other hand’…”
A horse fly, stuck in my tiny classroom: BUIUUUZZZZUUUZUZUUZZ
*fly smacks repeatedly into the fluorescent light right above my desk*
Me: “… like I was saying—“
Fly: *smack smack buzz smack SMACK BUZZ BUZZZZZZZZ*
Me: “Ugh, I’m sorry — stupid fly.”
Howard: “He’s not stupid, he’s just trying to survive.”
Me: “I mean… yeah, that’s true.”
Howard: “We are like the fly.”
Me: “I guess so, huh? I shouldn’t be so mean.”
*FLY FALLS AND DROPS DEAD ON MY DESK*
Me: “OH MY GOD!!!! What the hell!!!”
Howard: “Oh no… I am liar, I don’t want to be like the fly…”
Adventures in Business English #18: Jason’s Unfortunate Synonyms
*15 minutes ago*
Me: “Great job in class today, Jason! Do you have any plans for this weekend?”
Jason, a meek mid-40’s man with a small pompadour: “Yes, I do.”
Me: “What will you do?”
Jason: “I will… umm… *fidgets nervously*”
Me: “It’s okay! Is it hard to describe?”
Jason: “A little bit. Umm… an animals.”
Me: “You will see animals? Like a zoo?”
Jason: “No, umm… an animal taken my mouth.”
Me: “… what?”
Jason: “Animal took my mouth.”
Me: “Like… an animal… hurt you?”
Jason: *sticks out his tongue*
Jason: *points to his tongue* “He take it. So I am not talk.”
Me: “Your tongue—… wait, oh my god. The cat got your tongue?”
Jason: “Yes yes yes.”
I could barely hold in the laughter until he left. I didn’t want to make him feel bad, but man… the image of a mouth-kidnapping animal is such a gift.
Adventures in Business English #19: That’s Just My Face
While washing my hands in the restroom before class…
Cleaning woman, about mid-50’s: “*points to my head* Wind?”
Me: “Umm… no?”
Cleaning woman, laughing: “Not wind?? You usual?? You like this? *touches my hair*”
Me: “I uhh… I think so? Yes?”
Cleaning woman: “Where make-up?!? It’s not have?!? No make-up??”
Me: “No, I don’t wear make-up??”
Cleaning woman: “*grabs my cheeks* You crazy head girl!!! I like this!!”
Me: *laughs nervously*
Cleaning woman: “You are like new baby!! I like this face. Crazy head girl.”
*Cleaning lady releases face grip and exits the restroom with her mop, still laughing*
Either this was a very strange compliment, or that was the most emphatic insult I’ve ever received.