Pleasant surprises

Not ALL Korean surprises are bad, you know.

For example:

1. Early in the semester, I scheduled my open class for Tuesday, May 24. Today is Tuesday, May 24. Surprise! No cameras showed up. I realized that my big open class  a couple months ago (the one for new NETs) “counted,” cancelling out my regular open class. Yesssss! It was an especially great feeling because this particular group of students are not the ideal “open class” kids – they tend to be quiet and look like they’re not having fun even if they are. I was kind of worried about it, but all that pent-up nervous energy dispersed into happiness when I realized it was class as usual.

2. No air conditioning is allowed until at least next month, even though the temperatures have been climbing into the 80s with a relentless, scorching sun baking the classrooms every day. Today it’s raining, which is great – no sun (and as someone who is legitimately allergic to the sun, I’m loving that) – but it also means it’s crazy humid inside. My hair is literally reaching new heights of frizziness and everything feels sticky and damp.

The Korean surprise part is that during my last class of the day, the air conditioner in my classroom was mysteriously turned on. None of the kids would fess up, and my CT and I certainly didn’t turn it on, but we decided to quietly accept the boon. I mean, it probably takes just as much energy to turn it off right away as it does to run it for 45 minutes, right? Right?!

So we had beautifully dry cool air for 45 glorious minutes.

3. It’s mid-year self-assessment time for the NETs. Does anyone like answering these questions meant to trap you into egotism or low self-esteem? Rate yourself high on too many things and you look like a freaking narcissist. Rate yourself low and you look like a failure with no self-worth or confidence. Where is that balance? How much of a gap is there between “5 (very true)”, “4 (generally true)”, and “3 (true)”? Just how true can a statement get? True isn’t true enough? I’m confused.

The pleasant surprise was that my principal happened to walk into my office as I was balking at the task. He asked how my Korean is coming along, and I sheepishly explained that speaking is difficult but I can understand some.

[long tangent incoming ↓]

(wince… I know that question will only become harder and harder to answer the longer I stay in Korea if I don’t light a fire under my behind and actively study! I’ve been passively learning more and more vocabulary and grammar structure just by paying attention, and I can frequently understand the ‘classroom Korean’ / simple conversations that my co-teachers and students use, especially with contextual evidence. I can understand what is going on in the conversation in the Level 5 listening test from Talk To Me In Korean (the highest listening test level), even though I can’t understand every sentence. And that’s with zero studying!

But my confidence in speaking is so low. I get frustrated with myself – how can I expect students to put themselves out there and try to speak English if I’m too embarrassed or shy to try speaking Korean?

However, it’s kind of confidence-shattering to attempt to speak Korean and the listener has no clue what you’re saying. I think it has to do with the fact that English speakers are accustomed to so many different accents and ability levels, whereas most Koreans have only ever heard native Koreans speaking Korean. They have a very low threshold for pronunciation or intonation mistakes. Plus, some might not expect to hear Korean coming out of a foreigner’s mouth.

But I’m pretty much awesome at saying “Can I have a trash bag, please?” Sseuregi bongtu juseyo. I do this every time I go grocery shopping. Rolls right off the tongue. I’m a total pro now. So, you know, if any tourists out there ever really need a trash bag in Korea, I’m your woman.)


Then he asked, “How long will you stay in Korea?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I’m thinking about staying longer.”

He smiled, “I think you should stay longer and longer and longer!”

Knowing that the head of the school values me as a teacher gave me the confidence boost I needed to fill out the “list 3 strengths,” “what aspects of your work attitude can be improved?”, “list 3 goals,” etc. etc. on the self-assessment.

4. My CT informed me that the kids are all out on field trips and extracurriculars tomorrow. All day. No classes. These are the days when I can bring in my morning coffee and yogurt, pop in my earbuds and get a ton of work done in uninterrupted peace and quiet. I’m so looking forward to it.


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