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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.

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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“).

christmas tree in suwon

Christmas is umm…different in Korea. At least to an American so used to overabundance – of Christmas tunes blaring in every grocery, department and convenience store, of Christmas lights decorating house after house, of advertisements to “buy now” – the energy is different here. The stores aren’t packed with last-minute shoppers. The only place where I can tell it is a special holiday is at the train station. It is packed with people with suitcases, on route to visit family members for the weekend.

One of the Korean-American teachers told me that Christmas in Korea isn’t a big deal. It’s a holiday that excites children, with hopes of Santa Clause leaving presents for their good behavior during the year, as well as couples who apparently give each other tokens of love through gift-giving. But the holiday isn’t one about presents; the kids only open 1 or 2 gifts and that’s it (this would make every American kid cry). For everyone else, it’s just another day.

An interesting side note – there are 4 different holidays in Korea dedicated to couples, a type of Valentine’s Day that we celebrate in the states (some begrudgingly). There is even a holiday dedicated to single people, where they eat a certain type of meal, and gather together with a slight anticipation of meeting someone date-worthy.

But, the Koreans do try to scatter the Christmas spirit. Some trees are lit; the department stores and restaurants humbly display Christmas decorations, not at all to the excessive degree that is oh-so-American. And the funny thing is that you can hear Christmas songs – all in American. It makes me wonder if Korea even has their own Christmas songs.

Christmas this year was an usually warm 45 degree day, but it was a good one with even a little surprise at night – fresh snowfall.

Contact

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

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