Almost 6¬†months have passed and I can’t say the job has gotten easier since I first started at B–i. (In case someone does a Google search and sees that I’m not completely thrilled about my current occupation, I’ve decided to hide my school’s name). The children are a bit settled. When I say “a bit,” I mean the 5-yr-olds can sit for about 3 minutes without laying on the floor or start rearranging the chairs and the 7-yr-olds can sit and listen and respond to questions for approximately the same – 3 minutes – without someone screaming or running around the classroom or spitting on the floor mat. Teaching is like training monkeys to do the cha-cha at the circus.

Despite my living in Korea for 6 months now, I still feel like a foreigner. Not in a bad, uncomfortable way. More like a reinforcing way that I am 100% American even though I was born in Korea approx. 30 years ago. It is interesting, however, to be completely surrounded by people who look like me. I can completely blend in like a chameleon. By the way, for those who think Asian people look alike, go live in an Asian country for a while. There are all sorts of faces, complexions, eye shapes, head sizes, body sizes, etc. Some Koreans are really dark skinned. Some are super pale. Others have huge heads. It’s fascinating, really.

As far as learning the Korean language, I’ve been slacking on the learning. I have been picking up words and phrases as I go along – mostly from hearing the Korean teachers and kids say things repeatedly and learning the meaning by context (or asking the teachers what it means). Here are some Korean words/phrases I’ve learned and their context (Note: the spelling is my attempt at replicating how they sound phonetically):

  • ku-mahn-ay – means “stop” – as in “stop hitting your friend please” (5-yr-olds lack important motor and emotion-management skills and charge at their classmates with tiny fists – I repeat, it’s a circus)
  • bahn-der-oh – means “anywhere” or “any way” (I think) as in “you can put the stickers anywhere on the page. yes, anywhere. yes, anywhere. yes, bahn-der-oh – anywhere!!!”
  • sih-chil (I haven’t quite mastered the pronunciation of this yet) – means “color” – as in “color, please. Color! (make rapid coloring motion) color, please! (child asks, “sih-chil?”) yes, color!!”
  • chu-oh – means “cold” – as in “it’s freakin’ cold out and it’s the end of April!”

Despite missing home and being able to have an hour-lunch break away from “the office” and going to the bank whenever I want rather than having to ask like I’m 16 and need to borrow the car for an hour, springtime in Korea is rather refreshing. The cherry blossoms peaked about 2 weeks ago and sighed in bright green bloom last week. Shrubbery glows with fuschia and red and yellow and whites, and dusk can be really amazing with an awesome orangey-red sun. It almost makes me forget about the circus.

Wow, has a month really gone by? The weeks have been smearing together, like it does whenever you get settled into a routine, a seesaw of daily habits and events.

The 7-year-olds have graduated and a school year has ended. Thus begins a new school year at B-i English School and a new challenge for us teachers – teaching English to kids who have never spoken or read English before, let alone know their ABC’s. This is the real teaching that I expected to do when I came to Korea.

Half of the kids are returning to complete their B-i education and the other half are brand-spanking new to the life of “going to school.” I anticipate many crying episodes, many “what’s the matter?”s with the kids hyperventilating with snotty noses not understanding a word I’m saying. Some kids don’t have American names yet so I’m sure there will also be many blank stares.

I have been teaching for almost 3 months and what I have learned is that I am not meant to be a teacher. I don’t think I’m a bad teacher (come on, I gotta encourage myself if I’m going to make it through the whole year), but teaching is just not for me. How come no one ever says that in their blog about being an ESL teacher? Some people have the gift and the patience and the energy, and some people – like ah-hem, me, – craves peace and a silent work area.

That being said, I try to consider the job as a job and take advantage of the culture and opportunities when I have free time. Side trips to other countries aren’t a bad distraction either. A recent trip to Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year is such an example (which unfortunately rained the whole time we were there, but we got to go on a helicopter ride!! woo hoo!!).

I’m getting settled in the routine of “B-i life,” but have noticed dark circles developing under my eyes. Some days are really painful and I spend more time quieting the children and trying to get their attention than actually teaching. When the class is attentive, it’s like a much needed reprieve and I wish I could magically extend those 15 seconds to the rest of the day.

I think the kids are starting to respect me more, but it’s hard to tell. Every day is a coin toss. I’ve been called a “kid-teacher;” I’ve been asked why I’m so short. And just the other day I was asked if I’m a “man” or “girl” because I was wearing slacks and a suit jacket. When I told Monica that I am a girl, she asked, “Teacher, then why you wear man clothes?”

I’ve even learned some new Korean words. A couple that have been extremely helpful are “morayo” (or “molayo”) which translates to “I can’t speak” in English. I say this whenever someone talks to me in Korean…Which brings up another point. I have gotten many funny looks when people realize I can’t speak Korean. A few times, I’ve been asked if I’m Chinese because it seems incredulous that a Korean person can’t speak Korean. A couple of times, cab drivers laughed and muttered who knows what.

I listen to the Korean streaming all around me, hoping that something will click, that somewhere in the recesses of my memory, the language will spark and I will start speaking flawless Korean. I strain to extract phrases, but it’s very difficult – as it is for any foreigner in a new country, the language sounds like gutteral fireworks with changing intonation, a sort of fluid hieroglyphics.

I have also learned the word “yogi,” which I picked up by listening to the only 2 students in the 5-yr-old class talk to each other. It means “here.” Some others are “chongee” which means paper, “anyo” which means no, and “anjah” which means sit.

Give me 5 or 6 months, and I’ll learn an actual phrase. :)

Some of the kids have really uncommon English/American names. Of course, you have your handful of Johnny, Alex and Alice. But then there are names that I have never even heard of, like:

  • Annika – she’s sweet & quiet and barely says a word
  • Gelasio – he’s round-faced with a Bruce Lee haircut and likes to tell jokes (no longer goes to Bandi)
  • Vico – he’s super cute and always shares his snack
  • Odette – she’s cute & sweet, and told me once that another kid thought I was “scary teacher but no smile” (meaning I’m not so scary when I smile), so now I make a special effort to smile
  • Leo – he’s often in his own world, but he is a sweet boy
  • Solomon – one of the youngest students, likes to pretend he’s “angry tiger”
  • Joy – he has a wavy mop-top and is very cute. one of the brightest in his class, but never says a word
  • Red – he’s one of the loud ones in class, but very bright

All of the students are preparing for the end-of-the-year concert. The school year closes at the end of February in Korea. So we have been practicing our songs – “Bippidy Boppidy Boo,” “L.O.V.E.” and “Doe a Deer.” And of course, there are cute hand movements added in for entertainment. It wouldn’t be a real show without dancing!! (and me dressing up like a bear for the 5-yr-old’s play of the story “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt“).

Contact

::kristen.byrne@gmail.com
::skype: minikristen

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