the ups and downs…(mostly ups)

April 21, 2010

The kids at school all have to pick English names to go by when they are at English Academy.  Here are some of the funnier ones (followed by the name they were aiming for):

Jully  (Julie)

Risa (Lisa)

Patick (Patrick)

Minky  (???)

Mattew (Matthew)

Ginee (Jenny)

Joan (JoAnne)

Some of our textbooks have stories for the kids to read aloud.  Sprinkled throughout the stories are bolded words, which are words that the book’s author thinks the students may not know the meaning of.  So, every time we get to a bolded word, I stop and ask if anyone knows it.  A few days ago we were talking about cars.  I laughed to myself as I saw the word gas in bold letters.   After the kid read the sentence, I braced myself, and asked “What is gas?”  The reaction was better than I had hoped!  Several (not just one, several) kids yelled “anus!”.

One day I came into my youngest class of the day…the kids are 3 and 4.  I noticed one of the girls was missing.  “Oh Angela isn’t here today?  Is she sick?”    The kids don’t understand much English yet, so, naturally they didn’t answer my question.  A few of them babbled in Korean for a little while, and then I started teaching class as normal. …Fast forward to 7 minutes later, when I noticed one of the kids looking under the table.  I decided to have a look myself.  And what did I see?  Angela!  I couldn’t even be mad…I was incredibly impressed that a 3 year old could hide silently under the table for 7 whole minutes.

We went out to lunch with all of our co-workers on one of our first days of work.   Halfway through the meal, one of my favorite co-workers (who is Korean) turned to me laughing and said “You use chopsticks like my baby!”  Thanks.    **Note, this was at the very beginning.  My chopstick skills have improved, and I no longer look like a baby.

One day in class I was trying to explain what a strand of hair is.  I was lifting up one piece of my hair and saying “strand…..strand”.  To demonstrate further, I pulled out the piece of hair and walked around the room showing it all of the kids.  My hair is kind of strange.  The individual pieces have a pretty big range of darkness.  Some pieces of my hair are pretty dark red.  Others are almost clear.  This day, I happened to pick a nearly-clear piece and as I held it up to the kids, they starting saying “white hair!”  and “grandma!”.  Which was funny enough by itself.  Then one of them asked if they could have the piece of my hair.  I thought it was a little strange, but I didn’t need it anymore, so I gave it to her.  Then everyone started asking for a piece of my hair.  Strange,  I know.  I decided not to oblige…I already had a headache, so I figured plucking out 8 individual pieces of hair probably wasn’t going to help any.  I can only imagine the situation at home later on that evening when the one lucky girl who got a piece of my hair brings it out at the dinner table to show off to the family.

I had one class with the older kids whose English is very good, in which we read an article about a gay couple.  From my experience so far (and what I’ve heard from others) it is an understatement to say that Korean culture is pretty homophobic.  When we started reading the story, I recieved pretty strong reactions from students.  They said it was gross.  They made faces.  They didn’t want to read it.

Most of you know that I’m an advocate of gay rights (not only legal rights, like the right to get married, but also everyday, social rights, like the right for people who are gay to be able to be themselves and not be discriminated against).   Before going into the class, I thought about how I was going to handle things.  I know that teachers are supposed to refrain from voicing their own opinions.  Teachers are supposed to foster discussion in order to have the students voice their opinions.  Specfically, my job is to get the kids to speak English properly.  I know that my role does not include influencing students opinions about social justice issues.  However, after about 2 minutes of class, I decided I was not going to bite my tongue and be completely unbiased.  I tried to explain discrimination.  I tried to talk to them about why people who are gay are not to be feared or hated.  I tried to get them to talk about their feelings toward people who are gay, in the hopes that they would realize that they were just expressing thoughts and opinions that had been handed down to them by older generations, and that they didn’t actually know why they feel they way they do.

I don’t think I got anywhere with them.  And eventually I had to move on to the words in the “New Vocabulary” box.   I know that it is to be expected that I wasn’t able change the minds of a group of already socialized 13 year olds in 50 minutes.

I’ve been told that:

I look like I have a baby (not sure if that means that I look pregnant, or if I look so old that I should have a baby?)

that I have a penis

that I should wear my hair in a ponytail because it looks ugly when I wear it down

They love to get very close to my face and stare at my eyes, while saying “blue! blue!”

They say Scott has bomb hair (his hair looks like a bomb exploded) and that he has many girlfriends.  They call him Skirt teacher and Scotch tape teacher (they think both of those things sound like Scott) and Monster teacher (because he is freakishly tall).

As for life here, things are going well.  Things at our school have smoothed out.  They’ve changed our schedule so that we’re working what’s in our contract, which is awesome.  Teaching is getting easier (although the 3 and 4 years olds are still totally exhausting.  They are the cutest kids I’ve ever seen though, so it makes up for it).  I’m starting to enjoy it.  Some of the kids are a pain, but a lot of them are really great and sweet and funny.  We’ve met some new people that we really like and have been doing some fun things (bowling, hookah bars, climbing mountains).

Last week one of the Korean teachers (from the elementary school) had us over to her place for dinner, and we had so much fun.  We really love the teachers at our school.  Here are some pictures of the teachers from the elementary school (hopefully we’ll have a picture of the teachers at the kindergarten soon).


I found a place to run outdoors, which is honestly one of the best things I’ve found so far.  Running on a treadmill is miserable for me, but not running is also miserable.  A few weeks ago, Scott found this track (based on how long it takes me to run around it I think it’s a little over a quarter mile) and it circles a soccer field and play ground.  It’s right on the edge of town, so it’s right near a big, beautiful mountain.  It’s a great spot.  And being able to run is definitely helping me handle the stress of being here.  Because, although things are good, it’s still pretty hard at times.  I really miss having close friends.  I miss being able to call people when I want to.  I miss the grocery stores at home, filled with familiar, delicious food.  I miss being able to read signs, and communicate with people at stores and restaurants.  The language barrier has been really frustrating lately.  We’ve had several situations where we’ve done things that we know seemed stupid or rude or lazy (in cabs and in stores) and we can’t explain or defend ourselves, and people just get frustrated with us.  It’s really hard not to be able to even apologize properly.

A few weekends ago, we visited a city called Busan with Lindsey and Andy, two friends from college.    We went to the beach, an aqarium, a fish market, a Buddhist temple.  It was a great weekend.




These are some of my favorite pictures from a field trip we took with the kindergarten kids.

Here’s some bowling pictures.  Bowling alleys are pretty similar to what we’re used to.  I bowled a 143…my best score by far.

It’s turning to spring, and spring in Korea means…cherry blossoms!  They only last a week or two, so we went cherry blossom sight-seeing last Saturday.  Sunday was really windy, and by Tuesday they were almost all blown away.  I’m glad we got to see them while they were here…they are so beautiful!

Cassie

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3 Responses to “the ups and downs…(mostly ups)”

  1. Laurie Says:

    LOVED this blog. So much information and lots of pictures. The kids look so adorable. And what’s up with all of the “peace” signs. Does holding two fingers up have some significance in Korea?

  2. Julie V Says:

    I love your entries! Such good info. Way to stand up for your beliefs, Cassie! Everything looks so fun 🙂

  3. allie Says:

    just got a chance to read the last two entries.

    i just want you to know that i feel your pain completely with the whole im exhausted/but this is fun/but seriously im so exhausted and worn out. i thought my first year was hard – and i didnt even have to worry about not speaking the language. i admire you both SO much. i almost wish you would get to do it for another year b/c then you’d probably enjoy it so much more. but i also am really glad and excited for you to be back in the states!

    lets have a skype date soon! i miss your face!


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