The Substitute

Today, my morning was a little bit different than usual. One of my friends is taking some time off to visit family in Canada, so she asked me to cover for one of her morning classes. I said “sure” and she told me all I had to do was read some news articles with her students and discuss them afterwards. Cool, no problem.

I wasn’t ready for the incredibly enriching experience I found myself in.

The class was made up of five women: one about my age, the other four probably in their 30s or 40s. The first woman who came to class has actually been living in Australia for the past few years and was working as a welder! She recently quit her job to come home and study English, although she said she will probably go back to Australia soon.

The second woman to join was the one about my age. She was very shy and didn’t talk much. At 10 AM, we began reading our first article about prison inmates training dogs. Halfway through, a third (impeccably dressed) woman walked in. After she caught up, she couldn’t stop talking about it! She loved the idea and talked about how much she loved animals. She mentioned she grew up in the country and had dogs and chickens and goats. After her favorite cat died, though, she swore never to get another pet because it hurt too much.

At around 10:30, two other women joined. Our second article was about a little boy who saved his grandmother and Chihuahua from a burning house because he had learned to call the fire department because of a recent program at his school.

This led us to talking about education in both South Korea and America. I was very surprised to hear that most of the women do not like how much is expected from Korean students regarding academics. The woman from Australia had very strong opinions on the fact that children  are pushed so hard and go to bed so late. She thought that kids need more time to just be kids.

This was also coming after the most important day for students in Korea. Yesterday, November 12, high schoolers took their college entrance exams. This is taken so seriously that businesses are not allowed to open until the exams are finished and even planes have to be grounded or rerouted as to not distract testers.

After, we moved on to talking about technology. It was interesting to see the love/hate relationship. Some of the women really like how easy smartphones make it to find information and talk to family and friends, while others think that it’s too distracting and making us lazy. Their English was very good and we had a really insightful discussion.

They also began talking about how things were 20 and 30 years ago and how much has changed since then. One woman kept saying how the past is the past and we have to live in the present, and another asked her if she was a liberal. She said she was and proceeded to tell everyone how she constantly fights with her super conservative father-in-law. It was great.

Near the end of class, everyone asked me about where I’m from, how I’m liking Korea, etc. Naturally, we just ended up talking about food. They asked what my favorite Korean dishes were and if I like to cook.

It was a really fun class and I loved hearing so many different perspectives from Korean women. I never thought I would enjoy an adult class, but I had such an excellent morning!

Just Another Manic Monday

I haven’t worn makeup for the past two days because something has been irritating the skin around my eyes. Anyway, I walked into one of my younger classes only to hear “Who are you? What happened to your face?” This was repeated over and over until I realized that my students were referring to the fact that I wasn’t wearing any makeup. How sweet. I simply had to move on and get my lesson started.

It is generally acknowledged that beauty is highly valued in Korean culture. There are numerous makeup counters in the department stores and beauty shops are to Korea as Starbucks is to the United States. Since coming here, I myself have purchased several skin care treatments due to the fact that there are advertisements everywhere and everyone I see has absolutely flawless skin. They’ve got to be doing something right, right?

(Side note: I have actually fallen in love with everything I’ve purchased for my face so the answer is yes, Korea is absolutely doing something very right.)

I have also been making a serious effort to look like an actual human being when I leave my apartment in the morning (read as wear makeup and put on something other than yoga pants). So far, so good. I legitimately couldn’t bring myself to do it today, though, due to a weekend filled with itchy red eyes. Although, feeling better after today.

Then, during one of my evening classes, one of my female students kept on calling out “teacher!” and frantically slapping at her shoulder. I eventually noticed that my shirt was askew, and my bra strap was showing slightly.

Thank you, students, for your concern about my makeup-less face and messed up clothes. Aren’t Mondays grand?

Everybody Likes Stickers

Really. It doesn’t matter if you’re five or twenty-five. If someone gives you a sticker, you’d probably be overjoyed. I know I would be.

Yesterday was the day Tia Teacher brought stickers to class. Minion stickers, to be specific. I figured I would use them as little rewards for giving right answers.

My first class of the day was a class of six beginners. We read a story about running a marathon and then I wrote the past tense forms of some irregular verbs on the board and had each student tell me the present tense. Some examples I used were brought, caught, thought, and ran. They had so much fun guessing! Then, the stickers came out. Their eyes were filled with such wonder and the sight of the Minions. It was adorable. They stuck them all over their phone cases and notebooks and were so excited to show me.

On the way to my next class, which is probably my favorite, I was walking up the stairs when two of my female students happened to see my sticker book on top of the things I was carrying. They each latched on to one of my arms, pulling, and shouting “MINIONS” in the middle of the stairwell. “TEACHER! TEACHER! WE WANT MINIONS!” I literally had to wriggle out of their clammy grasp and assure them that they would get their Minions during class. Needless to say, everyone was very well-behaved that day. No stickers for naughty children!

The rest of my classes went really well, for the most part. I have one class of middle schoolers at night who just won’t speak. They will read text if I ask, but when it comes to answering questions – silence. I try so hard, but it’s like pulling teeth and I spend my time listening to myself talk (which does get rather boring after a while).

Has anyone else encountered a class of students who simply refuse to speak? What are some techniques you’ve used to get them to participate?

Tia Teacher!

They call me Tia Teacher. My students, that is.

It was only my third full day, but I’m slowly getting a little more comfortable and a little more familiar with my students. Names will take some time, although there is a small handful of kids with big personalities who I already remember. At the beginning of each class, I have them go around the room and tell me their name as well as one fact about themselves. Today the topic was “favorite foods.” Spaghetti ranked very high on the list among all my students.

At some point during the day, the skies opened up and we had a massive rainstorm. All my kids were walking into class soaking wet, wringing out their hair, and taking their shoes and socks off. It was terrible; I felt so bad because they were damp and unhappy.

On a brighter note, before work I found a new place for lunch called Kimseongsaeng, just a few blocks away from the school. It was predominantly a kimbap place, but I got the bulgogi pork with rice and oyster mushrooms. It wasn’t very crowded and I sat at a nice table in the back. They served me some delicious iced tea, with a familiar flavor that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. One of the waitresses also came by to offer me a fork, but when she saw me using chopsticks she smiled and got really happy.


Bulgogi with broth, banchan, and tea..

I think I will go to Busan on Saturday to see a Studio Ghibli exhibit. REALLY looking forward to that!