Trivial Pursuit in the Age of Coronavirus

After leaving Hoboken, NJ to shelter-in-place at my parents’ home on eastern Long Island, I found my grandmother’s edition of Trivial Pursuit from 1981—about ten years before I was born. So like a good social distancer stuck inside on a Friday night, I gathered my family around the kitchen table and called my boyfriend on video chat to enjoy a game. 

The rules for Trivial Pursuit are fairly straightforward. Each player receives a round game piece divided into six empty spaces. Players move their piece around the game board, answering trivia questions along the way. They must correctly answer a trivia question in six categories (geography, science & nature, history, entertainment, sports & leisure, and arts & literature), which will earn them a colored wedge for their game piece. To win, players must fill up their game piece with one wedge from each category and answer a final question. 

We set up the yellowing, mothball-scented board and started to play. But within a few questions, the game’s age was starting to show. Some of the particularly outdated questions included:

  1. What board game is banned in the Soviet Union? (Answer: “Monopoly.” This question was written ten years before the collapse of the USSR).
  2. What complex in New York City features 43,600 windows and 40,000 doors? (Answer: “The World Trade Center.” The question was written 20 years before 9/11).
  3. Which actor referred to himself as the “Errol Flynn of B Movies”? (Answer: “Ronald Reagan.” He had just started his presidency when the game was released).

In many ways, Trivial Pursuit was like a time capsule. The question cards captured a lot of “current events” from the late 1970s and early 1980s—events that we would now consider “history.” It piqued my curiosity to see which happenings from the 1970s and 1980s were deemed important enough to make it into the game of general knowledge. 

But not all the questions were about the 70s and 80s. In fact, the question that disturbed me the most took place about 700 years ago: “Which disease caused the Black Death?” 

It was an uncomfortable reminder of why I was sitting in my family’s kitchen that night. New York and Hoboken were in lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. I hadn’t been to the office in weeks. I knew friends and acquaintances who were diagnosed with COVID-19. And there was no clear timeline for a return to normalcy.

As I dropped the colored wedge into my game piece for the correct answer (“the bubonic plague”), it occurred to me that the Black Death–like every other question in the game–was an event that millions of people had lived through. But to me, hundreds of years later, it was just a question on a trivia card. At some point along the way, the Black Death had passed from one of the most traumatic events in world history to a trivia question for my amusement. And the same could be said for the other questions I answered throughout the game about the Roman Empire, World War II, the American Revolution–even that silly question about the Soviet Union. 

I wonder if 10, 20 or 40 years from now, I’ll play a new version of Trivial Pursuit with a question about the coronavirus pandemic. Will it ask about the final death toll, the economic impact, the search for a cure? What will gamemakers consider important enough to be “general knowledge” about this current crisis? What will those who are living through it now think about having their pain and suffering reduced to a few words on a trivia card?

It’s hard to look that far ahead as my own life—and those lives around me—have been so disrupted. It’s hard to be separated from loved ones, to work from home indefinitely, to see friends and strangers falling ill. It’s hard to read the news or scroll through social media every day, only to wonder when will this all end? 

But if the questions from Trivial Pursuit are any indication, even in times of crisis and change the world does go on. The Black Death did end. The Soviet Union did fall. The coronavirus panic that grips the world right now will gradually fade from the horrors of the present day into the annals of history (and into some future edition of Trivial Pursuit).

Life Since Korea

So…it’s been a while. 

After finishing my Fulbright, I felt that I didn’t have much to share on this blog. But since the world is grappling with a pandemic and everyone is forced to stay inside, I figured there’s no time like the present to get this up and running again. Here’s what I’ve been up to since I stopped writing in July 2016.

For the past four years, I’ve lived in Hoboken, New Jersey and worked across the river in NYC. Professionally, my career has continued in the education industry, but in a series of unexpected ways. Immediately after Fulbright, I worked as a marketing/proposal writer for an architecture firm, specializing in education projects (mostly renovations or new construction for schools). Then I transitioned to a marketing role in the continuing education division of a university, where I worked for two years. Now I am a marketing manager for an edtech startup that publishes daily news for children. I may not be at the front of a classroom myself anymore, but I am so grateful that my Fulbright experience inspired me to remain involved in education.

I’ve also continued my relationship with Reach the World through a combination of volunteer and freelance work. I’ve sourced auction items for their annual gala event, and I’ve been a staff editor for current Fulbrighters and Gilman Scholars writing their own travel blogs. I love their mission of globalizing education, especially for underserved communities, and I’ve appreciated the opportunity to be involved in so many different ways. 

Even if I didn’t keep up with this blog, I’m still a writer. For the past few years, I shifted more of my focus to freelance work, especially for companies related to edtech and career development. I took a few journalism classes at Gotham Writers and The New School, but I’ve been fairly quiet about my personal writing. I’d like to get back into the habit of writing for a blog.

Four years out, I don’t suppose I’ll be writing about teaching in Korea anymore. But I would like to use this as a space to share other thoughts and ideas related to education, writing, and life in general.

The Last Day of School

And just like that, the year is over.

Today was the last day of school. It’s strange to think that this weekend, I will be at the airport on my way home to New York. In its own way, the past week has been difficult because I have had to say goodbye to students, co-workers, and friends I have grown close to during my grant year. Here are a few pictures and stories from the last few days at Gimhae Jeil High School:

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The Hanbok Saga

September 2015

“Look, Janine, I have hanbok!”

Su Bin held up a large yellow box, her smile stretching from ear to ear. Inside the box, Su Bin had the entire ensemble for a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress. She told me she was going to wear it to an audition in Seoul and that she would send me a picture.

“I can’t wait to see it,” I answered. “I think hanbok is so beautiful. Maybe I will buy one before I leave Korea.”

Su Bin turned to Host Mom, who was sitting in the kitchen, and said something in Korean. Host Mom smiled widely and said something to me: the only word I understood was “birthday.”

“My mother wants to give you hanbok for your birthday!” Su Bin translated excitedly.

That’s such a big gift! I thought. It would be very generous of her, but I assumed she would forget by the time my birthday came around in December.

 

December 2015

“I travel soon in January,” I told Ye Bin, giving her my itinerary for my trip to Vietnam and Thailand.

“When you come back?”

“February 4.”

“Okay. When you come back, we buy hanbok.”

 

February 2015

During the winter break, I met Host Mom at her fitness center so we could go to Busan and buy a hanbok together. Hanbok is usually custom-made, so I had to choose which colors I wanted and have my measurements taken. Host Mom does not drive, so a friend of hers offered to take us. One friend turned into three friends, and the five of us went to a hanbok shop.

Once there, I stepped into the dressing room and changed into the large slip that you wear under the hanbok. I stood on a stool as the shop owner showed me a few different colors.

Paransaek johahae,” Host Mom said. She likes blue.

Choosing a turquoise jacket and a bright pink skirt, the shop owner helped me dress, as Host Mom and her friends cooed, “Yeppeuda!” So pretty.

Despite being a teacher and having students look at me all day, I feel uncomfortable being the center of attention. I liked the colors of this hanbok, and after trying a few more, chose the blue jacket and pink skirt. I was relieved when the shop owner finished measuring me and ushered me off to the dressing room to change back into my jeans. While I was changing, Host Mom chose the accessories to accompany the hanbok (tassels, shoes, a purse). We left the shop, ate noodles together, and went home.

 

July 2016

As I started packing my suitcase, I realized that we never picked up my hanbok. Ye Bin had mentioned it recently, but Host Mom had been so busy that we had not gone back to Busan to claim it. Last week, it was delivered to our home and Ye Bin said she wanted to take pictures with me. So, here are a few!

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This is me with my host nephews.

 

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And this is me with Ye Bin.

I am overwhelmed by their generosity, and I will always treasure this beautiful part of Korean culture and expression of familial love.

Boryeong Mud Festival

Over the weekend, some friends and I went to the famous Mud Festival in Boryeong, a beach town on the west coast. Usually, we travel on our own, but for this trip, we used a tour company called Enjoy Korea. The tour included a direct bus and a room in a pension near the beach. With the 5+ hour distance from Gyeongnam, we thought it was the easiest (and least expensive) way to travel to the other side of the country. It was also the best way to spend the most time together for our last weekend in Korea.

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Cultural Ambassadorship in the Classroom

As an inexperienced teacher, I have not written much about my teaching ideology, nor have I shared much beyond some of the successful lessons that I have had. As students prepare for final exams and I finish creating my last few lessons, I’d like to discuss my take on what it means to be a cultural ambassador in the classroom and how I have used my English lessons to fulfill this role.

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Kumbayah and Human Sacrifice

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I love Host Mom dearly, but spending time with her always leaves me hopelessly confused.

I have seen little of my host family for the past few months, so I’ve been spending a lot of time by myself or traveling with friends. After spending the previous weekend out of town, I decided to stay around Gimhae for this weekend and catch up on some reading. Apparently, Host Mom had other plans.

Continue reading “Kumbayah and Human Sacrifice”

A Letter From Myself

I walked back to the teacher’s office after sixth period today, and I found an envelope on my desk. A quick glance at the return address, and I saw that it was from the Fulbright Korea Program Coordinator, Amelea. Tearing open the envelope, I saw another smaller envelope, this one with my own handwriting. Nearly eleven months ago, back during Orientation, we had written letters to our future selves. As the grant year comes to a close, I can see what my past self had written, what my goals were, and how close I came to achieving them. Here are the contents of the letter:

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Vignettes About Discontent

No, this post is not about any discontent that I might feel. It’s about the discontent I have observed in my students. At my school, I am in the unique position of being an outsider, a teacher who is closer in age to my students than most of my co-workers, and a person who speaks a different language. This combination of factors has led to some students feeling more confident about expressing their opinions, and especially their discontent about their school lives or other aspects of their lives in Korea. The stories below do not represent all students’ opinions, but they have given me a greater understanding of my students’ social or political perspectives and how they manifest in the EFL classroom. Continue reading “Vignettes About Discontent”