I’ve been in Korea for just over three weeks; I’ve been in Daegu for two. Relatively speaking, this is a short amount of time to do anything or be anywhere. But I already feel my heart putting down roots here. Here are a few of the things (big and small) that have been helping me love Korea not just in theory, but in practice.
- First of all are the kids themselves, of course. I love them. Whether they’re mischievous and goofy or quiet and shy, they are all sweet, respectful, and fun. They are my primary motivation to work hard to improve my lessons and my teaching ability (as they should be).
- I love the militant, robust, yet joyous chorus of “I’M FINE THANK YOU AND YOU?” whenever I ask a class “How are you?” (This is a textbook response they’ve been memorizing since elementary school. It is programmed in so hard that they seem to be literally incapable of any other response. We are definitely going to be working on alternative responses in future classes. Still, it’s kind of adorable.)
- I love their enthusiasm and willingness to try (for the most part). Most of the kids, even the shy ones, when I come over and explain something to them, their faces will light up and I’ll get a chorus of rapid-fire “Yes, OK OK OK Teacher, OK. Yes.” (“OK” and “Yes” repeated several times are their go-to responses when they understand what they’re supposed to do, and it’s super cute.)
- I love that whenever I go into a classroom, before the co-teacher gets there, and without me having to ask, one of the kids will always come up to connect my laptop HDMI cable to the TV screen for me. Not because they think I’m incapable, but because it’s expected that they will help the teacher. Also, I’m amazed at how well they know computers – somehow, any time something isn’t working, one of them bolts up to the front of the room, takes command of my laptop, and a few clicks later everything is working, even though my interface is all in English. (Then again, I’ve gotten pretty darn good pretty darn fast at using the 100%-Korean-language interface on the school computers out of necessity.)
- Beyond the kids, I love the school atmosphere. I wish I could accurately convey this in words, but I don’t know that I can. It’s a very family-like atmosphere, and the teachers have a bond with the kids on the level of a mother/father or aunt/uncle figure while at the same time receiving the highest respect from all the kids. I’ve seen teachers holding kids’ hands while they speak to them and feeling their foreheads when they feel sick; I’ve also seen them pulling kids by the hair (not too hard) when they’re misbehaving. It’s so different from Western culture. And in the halls, everywhere you go there are choruses of “안녕하세요” (to the Korean teachers) and “Hello! Hi Teacher!” (to me) and everyone head-bowing to everyone else. My principal (the one I’ve chatted with) has told me multiple times, “The other teachers here, they like you, but they cannot speak to you because their English is not good. Please don’t misunderstand.”
As best as they can, my schools have made me feel like I’m a part of their culture and community, and I’m truly grateful for that.