it’s about 2:30 here at woosan elementary school. i sit at a desk (not my own, because i have yet to get my own desk… or computer…), staring at this screen in stunned silence. my first day of classes has just wrapped up, and i’m struggling to describe the last 6 hours. the phrase “fly by the seat of your pants.” comes to mind. as does the idea of an extended improv monologue, in front of a dazed and apathetic audience.
ok, i might be getting overly dramatic. it wasn’t all bad… or all good. just different. my coteacher here is very kind and friendly. the principal is strangely absent for 2 months due to being “disciplined” ?!?! i couldn’t gather quite what that means. the VP was very gracious, although he gave me an extended speech on korean history and the resilient integrity of gwangju city. he also gave me a stern reminder that my purpose here is to teach, not travel. yes, sir. please don’t kill all my vacation days.
i have 10 total classes here: 4 regular on monday with 1 “after school” class, and 5 on tuesday that barrel straight through the lunch hour (not sure exactly how that will work yet). almost all are 6th graders: the punks of elementary school. i was instantly surprised by how rowdy the students are in the halls – lots of pushing, shoving, and yelling. things that would never fly at my old elementary. even in the classroom, there were a lot of behaviors that would be unacceptable back home. as the new gal, i was reluctant to discipline or redirect kids while my coteacher was instructing, because i wasn’t sure if that would undermine her authority. she also already has an established structure and routine w/these kids, while i’m hopping in halfway through the year. a couple classes i can see spiraling out of control very quickly, and i want to reign it in right now… but i don’t know if my relationship with my new coteacher is at the point where we can discuss that. plus, she’s gone now, to a “business meeting.” i asked if i would see her again today, and i’m not quite sure she understood, but she said yes.
it’s so hard to explain it unless you’re in the midst of it: but korea is all centered around relationships. you’ve got to do things in the proper, respectable way. i can’t just dump 100 questions in my coteacher’s lap whenever i feel like it. this part of korea reminds me of africa – the hierarchy, the walking on eggshells with elders, the confusing customs, gestures, and terminology. i want to be american and get all my answers, schedules, and policies in place now, but that’s not quite how it works here.
i’ll leave you with some interesting phrases i heard today:
“you are more beautiful than i expected you to be.”
“you are so big.”
“woah. miss usa.”
“she is worried about you because you eat kimchi.”
“she is worried about you because you use chopsticks poorly.”
(the last 2 are in reference to an older teacher who ate lunch w/us and wanted to make sure i knew these 2 things.)