I've been on and off living in Korea for nearly four of the last six years, which according to many of my friends means, "My Korean must be so good". While I would love for this to be true, it's not. I could list all of the excuses, coming and going, having waves of motivation to study, losing interest and then coming back again, but ultimately it's up to me. The number of times I've cracked open my books, only to close them again is growing too high. I found an awesome Korean Language Scholarship program a year in and a half ago, an answer to my problems. Finally, after all of the "should, next time, soon" talk, I took the plunge and here I am, first week of classes at Geumgang University.
For the last two years people have been telling me what a great teacher I am, "one of the best foreign teachers I've ever worked with", but I often wondered how sincere these words were. Now, as my time in Korea is coming to an all-too-soon end I'm realizing that most of those statements were, in fact, heartfelt and I am a good teacher.
I've always seen my connection and interactions with students from one side of the glass, but over the last few days, I've been able to get a glimpse of the other side. I'm somewhat shocked by the number of students who have reached out to express their feelings towards my departure. I came across this article last week, which discusses the real impact teachers have on students and it really hit home with me. For those of you that don't want to click and read, here is a great excerpt from the article:
Your kindness. Your empathy. Your care and concern. They’ll remember that you took the time to listen. That you stopped to ask them how they were. How they really were. They’ll remember the personal stories you tell about your life: your home, your pets, your kids. They’ll remember your laugh. They’ll remember that you sat and talked with them while they ate their lunch.
Teaching English in another country is a unique and ever-changing experience, I remember being told from day 1 that there is no real way to prepare new teachers. For every incoming teacher, their city, school, co-workers and of course students are going to vary drastically. I strongly believe that it's a teachers attitude that is will determine how their career abroad unfolds. Coming in with a positive outlook, ready to take on any challenges or obstacles will help prepare them for success. There may be difficult moments full of challenging students, frustrating situations, and surprise schedule changes, ultimately making you want to throw in the towel, but the rewards are soon to follow. After spending close to two years in the classroom I'm happy to say that I've had a positive experience and wouldn't trade it for the world.
In the months before coming to Korea I'd have to say I was a lot more focused on how I would adjust to a new apartment, culture and language - the minor detail of becoming a teacher seems to have slipped my mind. The EPIK staff and lectures gave us some great material and resources to use for the classroom, however learning how to be a teacher is usually done over more than a weeks time span
After my whirlwind vacation and a few quiet weeks in Gumi I'm back at it - time for a brand new school year. To be quite honest, I feel like I haven't taught a real class since about November of last year, so getting back into the swing of things might take some time. On the plus side, I don't have to go through the "new kid" weeks again since i'm already accustomed to my school. There are, of course, new students and teachers to meet and many changes to be had, but I think I'm ready for them all. We had the opening ceremony this morning and I got my 15 seconds of fame as applause erupted from the student body when I was introduced. I wasn't the most popular teacher of the day, however - our PE teacher 윤종태 was easily the most popular among the students, followed closely by a few of the attractive math teachers.
Last week Friday was our school festival so leading up to the event I decided to do a lesson on festivals around the world. I found some material on Waygook so I didn't have to do too much work (I'm lazy) and then at the end of class I thought it'd be fun to let the students create their own festivals. I let them work in groups with hopes that this would prompt them to actually do the activity - I have a few sloth students that like to pretend to be invisible and sleep through most of class. (although who can blame then, when they rarely get a chance to do so). I must say I got some interesting festivals in return.
Last week, while all of the grade 2 students enjoyed three days in Jeju, I was lucky enough to join grade one on a field trip to Mungyeong. I think I might have messed up because I was supposed to be going with one of my co-teachers and her class (1-2) but I got on the bus with the Math teacher and his class (1-7). It actually wasn't a mistake as much as it was intentional on my behalf. Class 1-2 was just playing games all day and 1-7 was going to a coal museum, riding rail cars and theeen playing games for the rest of the day. We started at the coal museum which I never really caught the name of. The kids basically ran through the museum part and moved on to the outdoor area where we proceeded to take pictures and play some old school games.
Being thrown in head first and learning to teach is a bit rough - but no one said there was no reward. Last Wednesday the principal, 지경진 Ji gyeong gin asked what my favorite Korean food was and if I would like to go to dinner. I of course had no plans so yes, i'd love to go. The Chinese character teacher, 임동향 Im dong hyang and biology teacher 강병권 jang byeong gwon joined us for Galbi (korean bbq - again cooked at your table over hot coals) various side dishes, rice, and of course some Soju.