…but, alas, a figure skater I’m not! I had the opportunity to go ice skating with some friends this Sunday at an ice rink here in Pohang, which I did not know existed until they mentioned it. I guess it makes sense, seeing how speed skating is a very popular Korean sport that they do quite well in during the Winter Olympics.
As every parent, teacher, or babysitter knows, I’m sure, children are always full of surprises and life-lessons. They exhibit strange and bewildering combinations of innocence, selfishness, and off-the-wall logic on a nearly constant basis; and if you’re not careful, it’s very likely you will lose your sanity. Here are a few things I’ve noticed during the last two months I’ve spent teaching kids.
1) Food is made to be shared. Picture this: You’ve just spent several hours teaching energetic and somewhat rowdy kids the finer points of the confusing jumble of hodge-podged words that is the English language and you finally have a break. You sit down at your desk and retrieve that one Korean equivalent of a Ding-Dong that you have stashed behind a huge pile of books on one of the shelves. Just as you begin to unwrap it and your mouth is dripping saliva in anticipation, four faces and eight hands materialize out of thin air accompanied by a chorus of, “Mine?! Mine?! Mine?! GIVE ME! TEACHER, GIVE TO ME!” You turn around in a shocked and bewildered haze to see sad, dejected eyes looking at you with the hope of a tender young heart…. Well, let’s just say you don’t get to enjoy a single crumb of that snack.
On the other side of the coin, you walk into your next class to see students happily munching on chips, candies, and whatever oddball edibles they managed to pick up on their way to academy. As soon as you step through the door, you’re greeted by calls of “Hello teacher! Teacher here!” and the sight of many grubby young hands holding up pieces of food for you to eat. And eat them you must. Pity the fool who taketh from one child, but not from another. For unto him shall be bestowed a veritable earful of wailing at the unjust nature of his callous action. After you’ve had handfuls of dry ramen, peppero sticks, ‘chicken popcorn’ (popcorn chicken. I explained the importance in getting those two in the correct order), and gum, you realize that you’ve come out slightly ahead of just having that Ding-Dong. And then you realize that this might just be a good idea after all…
2) Kids love money like Scrooge loves… well… Exactly what it sounds like. From the moment they hear the jingle of coins or the soft crinkle of a newly printed bill, the little buggers will cluster around you screaming, “Teacher, give me money! Teacher, 100 won, give me now!” After I get over the initial shock (which has all but disappeared now, as this is quite a frequent occurrence) I ask them one simple question.
“Why should I give you money?”
The only legitimate answer I’ve received so far? “Teacher, you don’t give me money… I kill.”
3) Awesome quotes! And finally, some quotation gems from some of my students:
Me – “Life is cruel!”
All in all, I really enjoy teaching my kids. Sometimes, you just have to be ready for anything. As long as you can do that and do it with a massive sense of humor, you’ll be all right.
Last week I had a great experience in one of my classes that I hope will touch you as much as it did me. One of my classes is composed of seven girls; four of whom are quite the little all-girl Brat Pack, two of whom pretty much keep to themselves, and one very quiet girl named Susan. Susan is one of those students who has a very basic understanding of English which, combined with her shy nature, causes her to really struggle with vocalizing what she knows. Oftentimes it’s a struggle to get her to speak, and when she does it’s barely a whisper. In spite of this, she’s one of my favorite students because she is the epitome of a respectful kid.
Anyway, this was a class like any other. We were making painstaking progress through the lesson when I noticed Susan wasn’t really paying attention. In fact, she was knitting. I paused and said, “Susan, can you please put the knitting away? Thank you.” and kept teaching. Minutes later, as the rest of the class did an activity, I noticed she had the knitting needles out again. I walked over and asked her what she was knitting. She mumbled something inaudible and leaned over her project, so I squatted down and asked her again.
“Hat,” she replied.
“Who is the hat for?”
Oh, well that sounded nice. I assumed she was making it for a sibling or a relative of some sort.
I couldn’t help it. I just stared at her for a few seconds, unable to say anything. I felt so… proud. Proud that I get to teach a student like her. Then I said the only thing that came to mind. “Susan, you are a very good person.”
Seriously. While all the other students were horsing around with their friends, being noisy, or whining that they were too tired/sick/hungry to finish the lesson; this girl was knitting hats for children in Africa. Maybe I’m just becoming a total softy, but I thought it was one of the most simple yet poignant acts of charity I’ve seen.
What do you think? I know it made me look at myself, as well as the culture that I’m from. I thought about the Occupy Wall Street protesters with their gripes about the troubles our crippled economy is causing them. I thought of the embarrassing antics of Black Friday shoppers… the greed, selfishness and hypocrisy so clearly on display. And despite the troubles many people in the United States face I feel that, in most cases, we’ve got it pretty darn good.
So, as a belated Thanksgiving post, what have you got to be thankful for? Do you have family that loves you? Do you have good friends? Do you have a roof over your head, food and clean water, or a job? Do you have a hat or coat to keep warm?
And what have you done for others recently?
I’m going to link to a few charities that I really believe in just in case you feel particularly generous.
Compassion – You can directly sponsor children through this Christian-based organization in all corners of the world. They focus on education, health, safety, and ministry. And you get to write letters to and receive them from your sponsored child.
UNICEF – A huge global charity that focuses on children in poverty and terrible conditions around the world. They focus on safety, health, education, and combating HIV.
Invisible Children – A charity that focuses specifically on central Africa and ending the use of child soldiers in the conflicts that have plagued the region for the past several decades.
Anyway. Happy belated Thanksgiving. To my family and friends, I’m thankful for each and every one of you <3
So long Korea, hello Hong Kong!!!
No, I’m not actually leaving Korea. I am, however, going on a mini-vacation in less than two months! As some of you may know, the Lunar New Year is kind of a big deal in many Asian countries. Actually, in China, it is the most important public holiday. So, to mark the occasion, some of my English teacher friends and I are traveling to Hong Kong to properly usher in the New Year!
I finally got around to booking my ticket today; talk about a nightmare! We were trying to buy through www.cheaptickets.com, but I kept getting an error message saying the booking could not be completed and to try again later. Finally, I got a different message: one saying that the flight was fully booked. After a good old fashioned rage-fest, I decided to check my bank account… just to be sure. There I saw pending charges on my credit card for… well… a large amount of money. Queue rage-fest numero dos.
I realized I faced a cross-roads. Throw up my hands and have a nice, quiet New Years sulking in my apartment OR try something else.
I’m no quitter.
I bid farewell to the hell-spawn that is cheaptickets.com and said hello to my new favorite website Orbitz. There I found the same flight for $20 cheaper. Talk about a welcome surprise! Practically giddy with excitement (or maybe it was the massive amounts of caffeine from the copious amounts of coffee I’d guzzled) I proceeded to book the flight. That is, until I got the following message (or something like it): ‘Booking cannot be completed. Your bank has declined to accept the charge with the card details you’ve provided. Please try again.’
I started seeing red. I briefly entertained the idea of returning home, getting a degree from a prestigious university in the field of law, and single-handedly taking down cheaptickets.com in a beautifully re-enacted David vs. Goliath tale… but then I decided against it. Too much work.
Thinking quickly (the flight was filling up fast) I logged into my bank account, shuffled some funds, and whipped out my debit card. Searched flights, flight selected, booking details, payment…. HAHA!!!!
As I sat staring dumbly at the booking confirmation screen I felt the hot, numbing buzz of victory coursing through my veins. All right… maybe just adrenaline. Point is, I won. Take that cheaptickets.com!
I’m going to Hong Kong.
And I’m going to be watching that bank account, cheaptickets.com.
If I see charges… I’m getting that degree and you’re going DOWN.
The post for today is short and sweet. I taught my youngest class introductions today.
“Hello, my name is Nathan, what’s your name?”
“My name is ______.”
“Nice to meet you, ______.”
“Nice to meet you, too!”
I also taught them how American’s typically shake hands instead of bow. It was a very entertaining and laugh filled class session. Near the end of it, I had the students draw pictures of themselves. Then, for a little bit of a treat, I had them draw pictures of me.
This is what they came up with:
A big group of English teachers and I went paintballing about 40 minutes outside of Pohang. For 40,000 won; we got several rounds of paintball, a barbequed lunch, and transportation to and from the paintball course. Not too bad for a great day, eh?
This weekend, I finally managed to get outside the city limits of Pohang and make the long trip cross-country to Seoul. It’s not that I dislike Pohang – I really enjoy it here – but I need to see more of Korea! After all, I’m only going to be here a year. This was also a self-imposed test of my abilities to get places using the limited skills in Korean reading and speaking that I’ve picked up over the last month. Aside from asking for a few tips from my boss and Sehee (the friend I was meeting in Seoul); I was able to buy the bus ticket online, get to the station, find the subway, and take the right line to the correct stop. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Having figured out the Italian and French rail systems in the past definitely helped a little bit. The Korean bus and subway systems are so efficient and well orchestrated, it was a breeze compared to my experience with the Italian trains. Sorry Italy. I still love you.
Alright, alright… so I couldn’t wait until after the weekend to write another update. Since I obviously haven’t been to Seoul yet, this one is about something else. Basically just an update on the teaching situation so far; since, after all, it is the reason I’m in South Korea to begin with.
Teaching is something that took me a couple weeks to get used to. The training and structure at the school was minimal if I’m being generous with my description, non-existent if I’m feeling particularly… ‘truthy’. Nonetheless, once I figured out where the students were in the books, what their proficiency levels were in English, and got used to the amount of material I should attempt to teach in each lesson, it became quite easy. My style with homework, tests, and presentations has always been to skim the material beforehand and then wing it. It’s pretty much the same thing teaching. I have two basic class structures. Activity/worksheet based, and listening based. Each individual class is merely a variation. Once I figured that out, it’s easy as pie. Of course, one of the harder parts is coming up with fun and exciting games to finish up the class period with. Now THAT’S tough.