Koreans will proudly tell you that their country boasts all four seasons. They are distinctly separate, each with different dishes and experiences to offer both locals and visitors alike. Spring has the ephemeral cherry blossoms; fall has gorgeous, deep colors and spicy stews to warm up your bones; and the winter offers skiing and piping hot hotteok (pancakes stuffed with sugar and seeds and nuts), which are good enough that nobody would judge you too harshly if you traded your own grandma in for one.
Summer in Korea, however, can be a hellish nightmare.
Before I start complaining too much, let me first start with telling you that there definitely are great things to be experienced during a Korean summer. Summer foods like nangmyeon (cold noodles with egg and cucumber swimming in a vinegar-y broth) and bingsu (shaved ice normally topped with fruit and sweetened condensed milk) are absolutely delicious and should be experienced. (These are also available during the winter, but I personally believe people who eat cold foods in -20 degree weather while a blizzard is howling outside should probably be promptly carted off to a nice padded cell.) There are also activities like going to bars at night to drink magkeoli (Korean rice wine) and camping on the beach way down south in Yeosu and going to the jjimjilbang (a Korean bathhouse) to soak in the cold pools there – the quintessential things that make summer in Korea feel like summer.
However, right now, it is too hot to do most of these activities.
As I’m writing this during the beginning days of August, it’s 34 degrees out, which is actually a big improvement over the scotching 39 it was last week. Worse than the heat is the thick humidity, which has created a city-wide sauna. The air is thick and difficult to breathe. There is no breeze to speak of. Yesterday, I had to stop myself from wrestling a pink handheld fan from an eight year old girl during a moment of sheer desperation while walking home.
Instead of lying between my air conditioner (aircon, here in Korea) and my fan, weakly munching on a popsicle, like I so long to do, I am at work. That means that the quintessential summer activities I mentioned earlier are mostly out – at least, until I go on vacation.
The school year runs differently in Korea than it does back in the West. School begins in March, and runs through July. It starts back up again in late August and then ends when December does. During the two breaks, in both winter and summer, most public schools offer “English Camps” for students to attend. (For more about winter semester, click here.)
English Camps normally consist of anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks of English activities for students to do. During the winter, I prepared a Harry Potter themed camp because I am an unapologetic nerd who has yet to move on from my third-grade literary tastes, and choose to inflict this unhealthy obsession on my students. This semester, I am mercifully teaching a slightly more boring but much saner “Around the World With English” camp.
I myself will be teaching a camp until the end of this week. The kids have a withered look when they trudge into school with their backpacks in the morning. I run the air on full blast and show them pictures of snow and try to remind them that soon, this will all be over. Until then, I am simply trying to survive – and enjoying big bowls of bingsu while I can.