uncomposed thoughts

You’re so much more at the mercy of the weather when you don’t own a car. In America, if it was unexpectedly raining and I was caught without an umbrella,  it’s just a three-second dash to the car. I might get a little wet, but no big deal. Walking 10 or 20 minutes in a downpour sans umbrella is quite a different story. The same goes for cold and heat. All your outfits better be carefully planned because as far as I know, there’s no mobile A/C and heat for pedestrians.

This week’s culture lesson has been school in the U.S. and how it compares to Korean school. Since I was homeschooled up until college, I had to do my research on this one and ask a couple friends for their experiences. It’s a lecture-intensive class, so I’ve loaded my PPT with pictures and simplified my explanations.

To keep them from getting bored, I throw in multiple-choice quiz questions throughout, where they’re guessing things like “How long is the [typical] American school lunch time?” and “When does the American school year start?” I tell them that whoever gets the most answers right, I’ll give that student a choco pie. That keeps them motivated enough to pay attention.

They also, of course, love the lunch section where I show pictures of American cafeteria food – but they also understand when I explain that the food is usually not healthy and doesn’t even taste good anyway. Korean school lunch is 100x better (at least at this school, which has a reputation for pretty good lunches).

All my classes at all grade levels have been pretty interested in this topic. At the end, I have them write 2 compare/contrast sentences about Korean and American school, read some of them aloud, and then I do a quick overview of homeschooling and what my school experience was like. Homeschooling, with a parent as the teacher, is pretty unheard of in Korea, although I think online school / private tutoring might be a thing.

Last week I started one of my 1st grade classes as usual. Usually my various co-teachers will show up 1-3 minutes after the bell rings, and that’s no problem. I’m running the show anyway, and the first part of class is usually a simple warm-up that doesn’t need any Korean explanation.

But my ct never showed, and never gave any warning or explanation as to why not. I won’t go any further into that because nothing is anonymous on the internet, and anyway it’s the first time it’s ever happened, so whatever.

The point of this blurb is really just that I’m happy with the way I was able to teach them the American school culture lesson without relying on any translation. I threw in the Korean I do know when necessary, and made a lot of comparisons between their school life and U.S. school life to help them understand what we were talking about. (Like, if I ask them “What time does American school start and end?”, they might not get it, but if I first elicit when their school starts and ends – 8:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. – now they have context and I get a chorus of light-bulb-over-the-head “Aaaahs”.)

One of the 1st grade kids pranced up to me the other day before class and cheekily proclaimed, “I am as handsome as Song Joong-ki!”

While his classmates scoffed and laughed, I said in amazement, “Wow, that was a perfect sentence!”

I mean, do you know how rare it is to hear a Korean student (let alone a 1st year) use proper grammar using that “as…as” structure? Floored.


Incidentally, here is the man of the hour, Song Joong-ki. Recently made crazy popular by the TV drama that’s sweeping the nation, Descendants of the Sun. All the girls want to marry him (middle-aged women included). All the guys want to be him. Let the hipster in me make it known that I liked him before he was cool. Way, way before. Ever since I saw Innocent Man.

Last week, before class started, I was talking with some of the 1st graders who came into my classroom early. Somehow they got me to demonstrate my Korean writing skills on the board. They coached me through writing the Korean alphabet (I know all the letters, but I don’t know the order of the alphabet) and applauded as I wrote each letter correctly while they dictated.

Afterwards, one of the boys turned to me and said solemnly, “Teacher, you… Korean… hard. Us… English-ee… hard.”

Ain’t that the truth, kid.


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