Teaching Korean Kids: Day 1

7 03 2011

Why is it that I’m always kind of off to a rough start? On the first day of anything, I’m always so worried about making a mistake that I inevitably end up doing just that. And usually it’s something dumb. Grabbing the wrong manilla envelope, for example.

I had prepared enough random English-enough names for the entire 8th grade. There are about 300 8th graders, about 50/50 girls to boys. I had gone through Facebook and my phone’s address book for names, trying not to have any repeat names. Well, I had listed them all and miraculously had more than enough. Win! I put everything for the activity of the week and my pictures to show the kids in one envelope, and everything for next week’s activities in another. Guess who labeled them wrong and then brought what was labeled to be the correct envelope? Yeah, that would be me.

I asked my co-teacher if I could run home during 1st period, since I have it open, and grab it. She said I could, so I literally ran. It’s a 15 minute walk, and if you know me at all, I’m not at all the runner type. I hustled anyway. Up the 3 flights of stairs that smell like Granny Wyss’ house and into my apartment, to find the stupid envelope sitting on my desk. If it had a face to give me a look, that look would have been, “I told you so.” I had considered bringing both envelopes just to be sure, but I decided that I might need to work on it later. What an idiot I am.

I booked it back to school to find my other co-teacher looking for me. “The schedule has been changed, you need to come to class!”

Of course. The schedule for first period changed IN THE MIDDLE OF FIRST PERIOD. I have to say that it’s actually pretty typical of schools in Asia from what I’ve experienced and from what I’ve read about. It really is true what they say in the papers. Asian schools are chaos, and I thrive off of it.

I got a message from a Fulbright friend of mine who is also looking to come back to Asia. She mentioned a similar sentiment of mine, saying how she was drawn to chaos. Maybe that’s what sets Indonesia apart from other places. Loosely controlled chaos. She’s about to re-apply for the Foreign Service, which is something she was already accepted for but declined in order to accept the Fulbright grant. She’s interested in going to the Middle East or back to Indonesia, which is something that to this day weighs heavy on my heart. I’m definitely going back to Indonesia for break. Definitely.

Skidding into class after running all that, thankfully the kids are a bit timid, as I’m still a little spent from my run home in a peacoat. I introduce myself and start explaining a bit about where I’m from and what I do, which for some reason I can do for English students, but I can’t explain that to anybody else who asks. The kids notice that I have a stack of pictures on my desk and want to see them. They’re shy, but they are so curious. “Where is this?” “Who is that?” “What are you doing?”

I explain a picture then pass it around. I learned something today from passing out pictures, and that is to receive everything, no matter how small it may be, with two hands. The girls saw a photo of Branden, Thomas and me at Cascade Head with me and started giggling. “Oh Miss, they are so handsome!” I kind of had to laugh. Then the boys saw the picture of Hannah and Smemily, my two favorite girls, and one 8th grade boy said, “A blonde and a red-head. So rare, so majestic!” I feel like this guy is either going to grow up to be a beatnik/poet, or a creep who lives with his mom at the age of 40 and lives off of/for video games, Cheetos and 2 liters of Mountain Dew (If he were in America. )

Even with my long list of names, many of the kids wanted to use their own “English names.” That’s in quotations because a few of them decided to make up their own names. I also use “name” in the vaguest of ways. One boy decided he wanted to be called “Uganda,” and a girl wanted to be called “Arrow.” I was so confused at the time that I asked them to spell it for me. Nope, I heard right. The Uganda kid wanted me to write it out like it was Ke$ha’s name. There was an asterisk and a tilde involved. I was so taken aback by it that I offered up an umlaut just to push it a little farther. At the end of the shenanigans, Uganda’s name became Ü~gAn*da. I think I’ll just call him Kesha.

After school, Mrs. Lee took me to the immigration office. First, we had to go to the hospital to pick up my test results, which were fine, by the way. Off to Suwon we went, and it’s actually a lot closer than my maps seem to be telling me. It’s only about 10 minutes away from my house, not the 50 minutes Google Maps seems to think. Walking, maybe. All the stress of the hospital and the waiting in the lobby of the immigration office brought back memories of DMV trips from Hell that many of my friends have endured. I’m lucky with that 3-letter acronym, but I think I got what I had coming to me with this trip. I had to fast for 22 hours to go to the doctor’s office because my early morning appointment got pushed back to 5:50 PM. BOOOO. Then, hurry up and wait. Once the ball finally got rolling, I was done in 5 minutes. Not too bad. Fast forward to today and Immigration, and the “hurry up and wait” mentality hit hard. I can’t wait to have my residency card. Once I do, I’ll be connected to the rest of the world via a phone and internet, and most important, GET PAID!

The immigration office pulled an AMINEF that still makes me uncomfortable. They have my passport and will have it for at least 10 days. I have no legitimate identification in the meantime. It makes me really nervous. Not that I’ll be getting myself into a situation where I’ll need it, but it’s a nice security blanket. Plus, it’s being mailed back to me. I just hope that Korean mail systems aren’t as nosy and “Oooh, I’ll take that” like Indonesia’s. One can only hope. (I still stand firm in my belief that about half of my Dove chocolates from Mychaela and Donald’s Christmas box were nom-ed on by the customs people.)

Tuesday is an exam day, so I get to work in the Teachers’ room all day. No lessons, but I still have to be there… for some reason I thought benchwarmer days were taken off the contractual menu. I’ll have to dig around in my GEPIK documents again to find out for sure, but I hope I understood the contract right and don’t have to vegetate for days on end like some of the previous teachers and friends at other schools have to. Seriously, I am useless unless I have students. Either give me something to do or let me go. I can accomplish things elsewhere. Learn about my surroundings, for instance. I can’t really do that in an office where I stream 94.7 or watch the Daily Show and sit entranced by social media for 9 hours. It just doesn’t happen. Hopefully I’ll learn something new.

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