Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Things I've Learned In Korea

Today is our 18-month Korean anniversary.

And while most of the time I feel a wee bit overwhelmed with everything we don't know about Korean customs and language, today I'm remembering how much I do know about Korea. Specifically, my day-to-day life at school.

I know the timing of every stoplight and crosswalk in my neighborhood.

I know the fastest way to get from A-to-B on my bike based on the flow of traffic and the time of day.

I know that while making eye contact and smiling at people I pass on the sidewalk may be my go-to, the lack of response from people doesn't mean they are unkind. They are just Asian. It's not expected here, in fact, it's just plain kinda weird. I'm the weird one!

I know that if I stop for coffee, the barista-ladies will know my drink before I try to fumble it out in Korean. They are good like that. They just smile and take my money.

I know how late I am for school in the morning based on how many kids are still waiting at the school cross walk when I get there.

I've come to expect vendors outside the school on the mornings of school award ceremonies. They show up to sell flowers and bright, plastic-stuff to give to their kids. It only took me a half-a-dozen times to realize this is not some kind of roving carnival.

Offering the principal a drink at a school dinner

I know which hallways to avoid if I'm running late for school so that I don't bump into the principal and his disapproving looks on the way to my classroom.

I've stopped using English with my co-workers when I see them in the morning. It's just too early for them to think in another language. Yet, still we do a lot of "Hello" / "Anyoung haseyo" exchanges each switching languages when we realize the other person graciously used our own language.

I know when shy, little Yuna is about to ask me something, she smacks her lips together and sits real still at her computer until I look over. And then she looks surprised as if she's thinking, "Can she read my mind?"

I know the mornings that Jiyoung has to drive her husband to the train station in the morning. This is not a morning to ask questions or trouble her with words. Wait until lunch time.

I know that if I don't show up for "together time" after lunch where we drink tea and gab, someone will say something: "Where were you?" or "Are you sick? You must be sick." Together time is important time. Be there!

I know when I bring "American" tea to share, no one will drink, but they really wish they could to be polite. "Too strong," they say. I get it.

We have this game where we'll all be sitting in the staff room and someone will walk into the office speaking Korean and then, after they leave, they'll all turn to me and ask, "Okay, what did she say?" Then, I make my best guesses. Which have gotten surprisingly good even though I am far-from fluent in the Korean language. It's still fun.

In fact, just last week, the principal walked and we all stood up (because that's what you do when the King of the Castle walks in the room). He talked without interruption for about 3-4 minutes, waving his hands and gesturing toward the hallway with passion until, at last, he left and everyone laughed.

Everyone looked at me. I said, "I think he's angry because when you all brush your teeth after lunch, you spray the bathroom mirrors with your toothpaste and it must stop!"

They giggled. I was close. Apparently, he was upset that people were brushing their teeth while walking to the bathroom. "Unprofessional," they tell me. Oh.

I know when Mrs. Che really needs a nap. And we have the kind of relationship where I can say, "Somebody's a little cranky. Nap?" She just grins and heads to the couch.

I know that if I want to describe something to an English Language learner, I have to adjust my vocabulary to be the simplest, most commonly-known word. For example, if a light-bulb is "burnt out" I will just say it is "dead." Everything that isn't working is just dead.

I've learned that things will change. Quickly With no notice. My co-teacher, Mrs. Che is a bit forgetful. Last week, just before going on this holiday vacation, I asked her when I needed to be back at school. Assuming it would be this Monday. She looks at me with big eyes and alarm, "Bo Bo, no. Don't come to school! Did I not tell you? No school next two weeks." She pauses.  And then, apologetically, "Surprise?!"

That gal. I'm going to miss her dearly. She's being transferred to a rural school. Every teacher serves under this rotation schedule, because, as they tell me, "No one wants to teach in the countryside, so we have to rotate every four years."

So, she's going away and I'll get a new co-teacher at Nampyeong. Also, due to budget cuts, Jeremy and I will each be gaining a second school to teach at this semester. So that's new.

Speaking of new, Jeremy and I throwing all of our Korean knowledge out the window and going to Japan this weekend. Just a short trip. Four nights. But we'll tell you all about it when we get back.

Cheers and blessings,


Mark Busby said...

Cheers, have fun & God Bless
~Mark Busby