Korean Hospitality

It’s already been two weeks since I started working as a full-time english teacher.  Since starting, other teaching and/or admin staff have been so kind as to ask and even actually giving me a ride around.

An admin staff member helped me move into my apartment, and assisted with the initial shopping needs per my contract.  He also graciously gave me a ride the following Monday to go to work.  He’s been so helpful with everything although his english is lacking, he gave it his best shot and even at times we were communicating via a translator such as Google or Naver; Naver is better for Korean-English or vice-versa translations than Google in my opinion.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but I teach at 4 separate middle schools.  Two are quite out-of-the-way further into the countryside, and on Tuesdays I hitch a ride from a fellow colleague at that school.  She’s always worrying about me although I’m the one concerned because I’m freeloading off of her essentially.  The first time we met to go to school she was maybe 15 minutes late due to traffic or whatnot and she felt so guilty and was worried about what I may have thought but I was completely fine with it.  This week she was only 2 minutes late and that bothered her a lot too!  I can’t stress enough how ok it was, but she’s a worrywart.

At my furthest countryside school, 1.5 hours or more by express bus (including a transfer), I was waiting for the bus to go home at the bus terminal after my first day there when someone popped into the terminal and asked if I was the english teacher from the middle school I was just at and offered me a ride.  Mind you, I might’ve met her at the office but I honestly couldn’t tell – but she knew me well.  And to this day, not that it’s been that long, I don’t remember her face…

This past Monday morning I was waiting at the bus stop when a car pulled up and rolled down its windows – it was the admin I mentioned at first.  He gave me a lift since he saw me – so nice of him!  I thanked him of course and as we walked towards the office, I realized that it was Monday morning again and that I was due at another school so I walked to that school from there; he probably felt bad, but it was ok!  The school is only maybe a 15 minute walk from that one, and he saved me a dollar on the bus fare.

Just a few examples of some korean hospitality in the past couple of weeks!  Looking forward to my paycheck next week so I can return the favors back in full!

On a side note, sounds like cats are having the time of their lives outside my apartment building; I guess this can really happen anywhere in the world!  NYC, Japan, and now Korea – I can’t recall if I heard any during my stay in Singapore…

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#1 Asked Question

Part of my introduction is a slide on Rock-Paper-Scissors, and the winner gets to ask me any question they would like (or what the class tells them to ask…) and the most frequently asked question is without a doubt, “How old are you?”

If you don’t know Korean culture much, this will seem very personal, intruding and strange to you, but it’s very normal to ask someone’s age when you first meet them.  “Why?” you may ask, well it’s because they have a vertical formality culture in how you treat others, and how you speak to them.  It’s similar to the Japanese culture in this aspect, but from what I’ve seen it’s a little more prominent.  I could be wrong though.  Perhaps the reason I say this is because the age question isn’t as frequent, and the language used outside of professional settings tend to be more lax than what I’ve seen in Korea thus far (granted it hasn’t been that long yet…)

If you’re not familiar with this cultural aspect, this can range in differences from how you address someone, the conjugations used, formal language, body language, and ultimately, respect.  But I think my students are simply curious – they are after all only middle school students!

A Middle School of 15 Students

Yeah, my smallest school contains only 15 students.  Even better, the first year (7th grade) has only 2 students.  But I’m absolutely loving the small classes!  Brings me back to the days when I was teaching at a conversational English school in Kyoto with class sizes going up to only 8.  It’s so much easier to do everything you need to be doing as any sort of teacher!

Best part of all is my co-teacher!  She’s amazing!  She knows when the students don’t understand and only then does she translate into Korean – smooth class.  Although the class sizes are small, we were able to actually “co-teach”.  For example, I included this part of showing them how to play rock-paper-scissors as we play it slightly different, you know as a cultural learning experience or something for them, and we essentially split the class into two and played and stuff like that.  I have yet to teach with all of my co-teachers at all 4 schools that I’ve been assigned to, but it’s going to be difficult to top that.

The school is in the countryside and a pain-in-the ass to get to for most of the teachers as they don’t live in that village.  Most of the teachers carpool and I’m going to be hitching a ride with a teacher from now on I suppose.  It would definitely be environmentally friendly in terms of emissions and on the pocket.  Got to figure a way to continually show my appreciation, gratitude and somehow repay her – there’s always snacks, meals, and gifts.  We’ll see!

I Love You 사랑해

So it’s around 4pm and I’m sitting at my desk making lesson plans when unexpected visitors come to me – 3 high school girls.  Have I met them before?  No.  They’ve sorta met me before though, at the opening ceremony earlier this week.  They introduce themselves and shocked when I could almost say their names properly, and even more shocked when I was again, almost, able to correctly write their names in Korean.  One of the chicks admitted of having some interest in me which is probably her and her posse came by.  She said something in Korean along the lines of, “We’re going to come back and stay here for a while.”  And I agreed because it didn’t bother me at all and it was the first time I actually had a conversation, although really short, something more than the standard greeting in the hallway since I haven’t taught a class there yet.

Long behold, a period later they came back and I was in the middle of rushing to finish another lesson plan and they sensed it so they didn’t stay long; they possibly had cleaning shift as well, who knows.  But sure enough before they left, one said, “I like you.” And another said, “I love you.” And they chuckled, and in the spirit of it all I said, “사랑해” (Saranghae) which stands for the latter.  Probably not the best environment to have said it in the teacher’s room and all, but everyone understands that I’m a foreigner, lol.  Thoughts?  When we learn a new language, we all learn the unnecessary vulgar language first anyways, and although this may not be “vulgar” in a sense, it may be considered inappropriate.  I’ll stick to the 외국 waygook (foreigner) card for now though and watch myself from hereon out?