For me, the classroom remains simultaneously challenging and fulfilling. Ideas which are ideal in my head often fall apart, and a lesson made up on the spot can sometimes be the most effective tool of the day.
Fortunately Mrs. G. is available with words of wisdom, helping me improve as a teacher. Interacting with people who love their profession is refreshing, and one nice thing about this experience has been bouncing ideas off my mother, master of the classroom. Not many people get to understand what their parents "do," and I value being able to see my mom in her element. When I get home I'll take my Dad to Old Country Buffet so I can see him in his element too.
Even though I can't be present to say it in person, Happy Mother's day Donna. I appreciate everything you do. Man it's gonna be hard to type the rest of this while I'm crying.
This means every stranger you pass on the streets here is theoretically two contacts, at most, away from the next. Three of my siblings are from South Korea, and if what they say is true then among the thousands of Koreans I've passed and scores I've met, surely someone has a connection to my family.
I could write a book about the Goseruds but I think two paragraphs will suffice, and to be quite honest I'm tired of using personal pronouns. So enough about me, let's talk about you. What's everyone's favorite color? Fine I'll just keep going then.
Not all of Korea operates in this fashion. The country was transformed from post-war ruins to it's current state of rapid growth through the "bali-bali" mentality; a phrase which translates into "hurry hurry." Visiting bigger cities reminds me that the pace of Maehwa is an exception to an otherwise technology-driven, fast-paced Korea. But even in the tiny village of Maehwa, "bali-bali" undertones exist. Few words are exchanged among teachers at lunch for example, evidence that professional duties remain the priority.
"Ri" means village, and in this village teachers and students freely roam school grounds. By American standards there is less supervision and more trust. Maybe things have changed since I was young, but the thought of an Elementary school being run like this in the states seems far fetched.
I prefer the laissez-faire style of my school, it appears to teach the kids to be people instead of over protected minions. I always thought it was a bit ridiculous that my senior year of high school I had to raise my hand to go to the bathroom, when weeks later I was expected to independently live at college. Kids live up to the responsibility levels expected of them. When you give them the chance many step up to the plate, many do. When you limit them, they tend to rebel.
Teachers seldom monitor recess here, and I was especially thankful for this one particular afternoon. While playing soccer with the older students, about 8 kindergarteners abducted me and I was forced to join their game of keep-away. Eventually I felt bad about keeping the ball away (I actually felt really good about myself), and therefore decided it was time to end the game.
You can't just end a game with 6 year-olds unless you want to be attacked by a mob of high voices, so I told them to run towards the swings while I punted the ball in a different direction. They listened, but I swear the moment the ball left my foot this one little girl took a 90-degree turn for no reason, in a direct path with my punt. She had her back turned to me and had no way of knowing where the ball was going. I don't know why she turned, there was nothing but sand there. She didn't need sand. It was like this girl was a migrant bird magnetically destined to get hit with a soccer ball.
I'm fairly certain real-life slow motion happened, and sure enough the ball came straight down on her head. I may or may not have laughed before running over to see if she was okay, fortunately it wasn't a very hard punt.
She brushed it off to the laughter of many students, and one teacher. Hopefully she didn't understand English laughter? I don't know, but the girl ended up being fine and business as usual carried on inside the English room.
Sports day is an excuse to force all the kids to wear uniforms and watch them play games like "flick the high heel shoe. Science day is an excuse to shoot rockets in a northern direction.
Two days before North Korea attempted to launch their failed rocket, we successfully launched 40 of our own in a northern direction during Operation Science Day. What we're just gonna let North Korea launch and not do anything about it?
Alright so ours were water powered and created by students, but I still believe Maehwa will be a world superpower in the next 20 years. Based on the results, our 10 year-old engineers are superior to North Korea's.
I'll try to describe Levi politely. This will be difficult.
At recess while the other students are playing, Levi walks around and collects dead birds with his bare hands. Sometimes I see him talking to them in attempts to nurse the birds back to health. It never works. They are dead.
I let Levi take the lead during a game of Simon Says, and he told the whole class to "die" before trying to open a second story window to climb out.
Sometimes when I'm giving out name-tags he crawls under his desk and tries to grab my leg while making troll sounds.
Clearly I expected Levi's rocket to explode shortly after take off.
Instead, while most students' rockets only managed to make it half way across the soccer field, Levi's not only cleared the entire field, it also threatened to maim someone in the village beyond school grounds. It was an incredible spectacle to witness.
For example, one of my 5th graders saw this picture (left) in the English room and asked me if this was President Obama. I couldn't tell whether she was serious or messing with me, but was impressed either way by her international awareness. Many kids in Korea are very in tune with western culture and politics, even at relatively young ages.
The world is becoming more global, and English will be valuable as these children join society. I'm realizing that with limited teaching time, I could do more harm than good to these students without the proper outlook. I don't want to taint their potential for a lifelong interest in English with the overambitious pursuit of momentary success. I'd rather let learning become a byproduct of an introduction to the language and it's culture, while establishing a more permanent curiosity.
And if all else fails, you can just make fun of the students until they cry.
The annual cherry blossoms have come and gone; a sign that summer is just around the corner. These trees are stunning, so fragile a single rainfall causes their flowers to collapse, and lasting but a week even in the absence of rain. I believe they exist on similar latitudes around the world, and I'll certainly miss the electrical-wire sound produced by blossom-feasting bees.
It's also worth noting that China's annual gift to Korea, the "Yellow Dust," rolled through relatively unnoticed this year. Typically a cloud of smog from China somehow traverses the Yellow Sea, numerous mountain ranges, and an entire country to deliver a thick dust storm to Korea.
• I've started to watch a comedy every morning as a personal mood experiment. It has positive effects. One day I was so filled with joy I had the urge to reverse pick-pocket strangers, and just put money in their pants.
• A South African named Nash tried to hypnotize me. It didn't completely work, but we will try again.
• I'm trying to find a rock-paper-scissors opponent. The loser will spend 24 hours in Uljin's only 24 hour restaurant.