Summer Schedule

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It’s Friday and the first day of our summer schedule.

School breaks mean one thing for Hagwon teachers: more work. As the one foreign teacher there, I actually work much less than my Korean co-workers. I have almost 3 hour breaks between my middle school and elementary school segments. My classes with them are still a short 20-30 minutes long, except for my 4th grade and top 6th grade class which are 40 minutes and one hour, respectively.

Still, I will be busier than normal. Mostly though, summer schedule means that my work day begins and ends earlier. It’s a mixed blessing since I enjoy being able to leave work when it’s still light out but I hate adjusting to waking up and leaving earlier.

I don’t remember last summer very well but I remember being completely exhausted when the winter schedule ended and wishing for a really long holiday.

Friday, though, I came to work feeling happy. I cheerfully greeted my coworkers and couldn’t stop grinning.

Maybe it’s because I finished my latest session of Korean classes and did well on the final test.

Maybe it’s because I finally took care of all the paperwork needed to start my second year here.

Maybe it’s because I’m almost done grading the speaking tests that we recently put the students through.

Maybe it’s because it’s a Friday and I have a weekend with nothing planned, to look forward to.

I suspect it’s a combination of all of them.

Furthermore, the start of the summer schedule makes me realize just how close I am to seeing my parents and having a real vacation.

They come more or less after the summer schedule ends. I may as well start counting down. It’s starting to feel more real, like it will really happen.

If there’s one downside to this, it’s that I still haven’t decided where I’m going for the rest of my vacation time and time is running out to buy plane tickets. I’ve decided that I need to get out of Korea for a week or so. Last year I went to Kyoto but didn’t have much time there so I resolved to go back the next year.

Well, now it’s next year. I’m still interested in Japan but it’s also kind of pricey. I’ve thought a little about going somewhere like Thailand or Cambodia but I’ve never seriously considered them before so I have no idea what I’d do there. I’d need to do some research.

If I’ve learned anything from my travels, it’s this: I love going to new places and experiencing new things so long as they are interesting, beautiful or not stressful (as in, I know what I’m getting in to, to some degree). I don’t like the logistics: figuring out how to get around, how to order food, where to go, not knowing the plan (if I’m with others), feeling out of control, and carrying all my crap with me.

Japan would be the costly, but simpler choice. I have some idea of what I’m getting into and there are still many things for me to experience and see there. But there are still so many other places to go.

If you have any suggestions for me….don’t hesitate to weigh in. I’ll probably still be trying to figure it out.

Still, on Friday, the good outweighed the anxiety. I simply felt happy.

A little more than one month to go. I can’t wait to see my parents!

Names

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View from my classroom window.

Today I walked into one of my lower level 5th grade classes to be assaulted by “New names, Teacher! New English names!”

Previously they’d indicated they were interested in changing their names in class but I’d hoped it’d been a passing phase.

I have a love-hate relationship with the whole English nickname thing. On the one hand, it is true that it’s easier to remember their names if they are more familiar to me but then it means I never learn their real names. When it comes to talking about them to the other teachers, I have to try to figure out their real names since they only use their English names with me.

Then there’s the chance that a kid may decide they want a different English name. This is frustrating even if they are switching from their real name to a nickname because I’ve come to know them with that name. And sometimes I can’t tell if they are serious about the name change or are just going through a quick phase because they heard a cool name recently or they think it’s funny for a day.

Like today….

Everyone is raising their hands, and tossing out name suggestions for themselves and each other. I reluctantly grab a pen and a scrap of paper and stand ready to write them down. I point to girls sitting closest to me. She’s a shy, quiet kind of kid; she follows the other girls and rarely volunteers for things. I’d like to think that she’s started to become more outspoken as she’s gotten used to the class but I wasn’t prepared for her name request.

“Harry Potter,” she almost whispers.

“Harry Potter?” I echo.”A boy name?” She nods.

I ask a few more times, just to check that she’s serious. The rest of the class chiming in doesn’t help. Wherever this wave of name-change-enthusiasm came from, it’s bound to pass quickly, leaving these kids scratching their heads wondering why on earth they picked such odd names…or clamoring to change them again. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Far be it from be to discourage her from being Harry Potter, if she really wants it. It’s a bold move I wouldn’t expect from her. She seems pretty firm about it, so I write the name down on my paper.

I point to the next girl. She’s the newest member to this class and is even more reticent than Min-kyeong/Harry Potter. Her soft-spoken nature and her unclear English pronunciation makes her a little hard to understand.

“Cindy” is the name she chooses for herself.

Next.

Kristoff, is tall for a 5th grader and has the energy levels to match. He’s also one of the more outspoken, loud kids in the class. This is his second name change since joining my class. I’ve already forgotten the name he arrived with but he came on the heels of the ever-popular “Frozen.” He chose the name Kristoff, from the movie.

He’s been shouting “Sky” since I walked into the classroom. Once I point my pen at him, he adds to it.

“Sky Mint.” I try not to laugh. It’s worse than Harry Potter. I write it down. “Mint Sky,” he amends, a second later; perhaps a more logical word order but no less laughable.

“Oi-vey” I breathe.

I continue down the line of students. They keep shouting out suggestions and changing their minds in the next breath. By the time I finally sort things out, almost everyone has decided to stick with their previous names. “Harry Potter” goes back to being a shy Korean girl and the only new names that stick are “Cindy” and “Mint Sky.”

I liked ‘Kristoff’ better.

Rain and Shine

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Right now is South Korea’s rainy season. Last year it was relatively dry with only a couple big storms. This year’s rain is more persistent. But on the days it doesn’t rain, the sun is strong and the air oppressively humid.

These past weekends I’ve done very little. Since the Sewol tragedy, many festivities have been canceled or subdued. Fun activities and traveling were seriously curtailed. The lack of organized trips and the sometimes-rainy-sometimes-hot-energy-sapping-weather has kept me from going anywhere. With me, this means fewer pictures.

I’m having a hard time figuring out where to travel to next. My summer schedule starts soon, too. I will start and end my work days earlier but it will be busier. After that, my parents come and then I’ll have some time off to travel somewhere (also haven’t decided where to go yet).

All I’m getting at is….my mind has been rather chaotic and busy even if the rest of me has been free to take pictures or write or do anything vaguely productive. Anyway, despite my lack of ideas and motivation to do more, I did manage to bring my camera with me to work a couple of times. I took some walking pictures. Most turned out fuzzy since I was trying not to be too obvious. So, from 3 separate days and nights, I give you “SUN and RAIN”.

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Cafe Florida and Friends

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I’m walking back home from work when I spot the owners (husband and wife, Young-Chang and Ji-hye) from Cafe Florida hanging out behind the coffee shop. They’re a sweet couple, always concerned about how I’m doing and sometimes slipping me an extra piece of candy or snack when I buy a drink there. Also, they’re conveniently close to home. If I haven’t mentioned them before, then I should have.

They see me and wave me over. There’s a big car parked in front of them  with the windows rolled down and I can hear the sounds of giggling coming from inside.

“So-yeon-ah” one of them calls out.  Mallory Teacher has come.

The little girl, their friend’s child, squeals and pops her head out the front window of the car. “Mallory Teacher!” she grins. I smile back and wave hello.

The girl is strangely attached to me. I met her and her parents and Cafe Florida sometime last year and sat and chatted with them a little. Their daughter is probably about 5 and is learning a little English in her Elementary class at school.

She spent most of the time smiling, running away, and giggling shyly when her parents encouraged her to speak and English to me.

Another time I met them, I gave her one of my pictures. But by then her attachment to me was already well established. I suppose it’s the kind of thing that can’t be rationalized. Being a foreigner could be all it took.

Several other beribboned heads peek out the window at me. Since I fail to do anything more interesting than waving at them, the girls quickly return to their earlier activities. The back seats of the car had been folded and the kids had set up camp in the back, drinking bubbly fruit drinks and playing some imaginary game.

When one of the stray cats in the neighborhood walks by, the girls jump out of the car. They call to any cat they see, trying to coax it close enough to feed it. Young-Chang helps by carrying a Tupperware container with cat food in it.

I sit and talk to So-yeon’s mom and Ji-hye a little. Mostly, I listen to them and watch the kids parading down the street in search of cats.

After a while, I say my goodbyes and continue on home.

Vignette: Soul-bringer

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I walk into my low-level 4th grade class. It’s my smallest class with 3 kids. The members have changed since the class started in March but I’ve never had more than four at a time. Currently we have two boys and a girl.

The girl, Won-nyeong, isn’t here today. In her place is a third boy. His hair has a slight curl to it and his eyes are bright with something akin to mischief. The moment he looks up at me, I can tell that I’ll have no trouble getting him to talk.

Instead of focusing on him right away, I turn to Seung-hwan – the first and only student who’s been with this class since day one – and ask him how he is. It’s the rote question I ask almost all my students, daily, but I actually listen to their answers, since I truly want to know. Seung-hwan is a small kid, even by fourth grade standards. Depending on the other students in the class, he vacillates between being adorably cheeky to downright mulish. He used to be first or second in the class in terms of language ability but eventually those students left and were replaced by students with a little more familiarity with English. Now pretty much always at the bottom in terms of spelling and vocabulary. I feel bad for him but there doesn’t seem to be much I can do. I can’t make him study harder and I can’t simplify the class just for him.

“Fine.” He answers my question.

“How are you?” I look at my other student who goes by the English name, Daniel.

“Fine.” He replies. Daniel’s English is probably the best in my class of three. He often responds without hesitation and is quick to translate. He’s generally well-behaved and stays on task but I always worry that he’s not getting enough of a challenge out of the class. At least he’s not acting out from boredom but I still wish I know how to make him work a little harder for things. I’m glad to have the calming influence of Won-nyeong not only because I feel more comfortable with a female student but also because her English comprehension and vocabulary seem to be pretty close to Daniel’s which means he’ll have a little more competition. It’s a shame she isn’t here today.

Finally, I turn to the new student.

“What’s your name?” I ask. He mutters something that I can’t quite make out. I ask again and even after their Korean teacher tells it to me, I’m not sure I’ve heard right. After all, I’m expecting to hear a Korean name before going through the process of asking if he wants to use an English name.  Nope, I heard right, though. He already chose an English name.

“Soul-bringer.”