Archive for April, 2010


As I finished out my school day, it stared to rain. Now, the weather report had warned about spring showers, but my umbrella was missing from it’s normal place deep in the floor-pile. I was defenseless. Sighing, I zipped up my black fleece hoodie (which, I want to say, I got in 7th grade. It never ceases to amaze me that I remember zipping it up to the prime halfway-up-the-chest point to walk by the guy’s classrooms, carrying laminated hall passes or bones from the science room. This is what I think about while walking to classes as a teacher) and headed out into the rain.
By the gates of the school was one of my 7th graders. At first she didn’t recognize me, and waved hesitantly. As I drew closer, I saw a smile trace across her face.
“Hi teacher!” She asked in Korean, “Do you have an umbrella?”
“Hi!! No. No umbrella.” I answered back in English.
In Korean again, she shot off a list of questions, and confused by her rapid fire, I repeated her question back at her.
Slowly, in Korean, she asked: “Where is your home?”
“I live by Emart. That way~” She nodded, and looked at her own umbrella. I was worried for a second that she would give hers to me, but-
“Bye teacher!” She headed off.
“Study hard!”

Just as I turned my back from her, an ajjuma passed by, slowing to look at me me.
Ajjuma’s (as I might have said before) are women of a certain age (55+) who have kind of a… weird status in Korean culture. They are simultaneous respected and mocked. 😉

[An Ajjuma joke: A woman was pushed off a hill. She died. Ah, the people said, just a woman.
A second woman was pushed off a hill. She got up and brushed herself off.
Ah, the people said, an ajjuma!]

Back to the story: She motioned quickly to me, a little lady, tight perm, shirt flowered. She linked her arm in mine, pulling me close under her umbrella.
She said, in Korean, “Walk with me!”
I let loose some of my broken Korean, using the terms for addressing ones elders to say thank you. Above everything else, I was suspired. It’s rare for Koreans to talk to someone that they haven’t been formally introduced to, let alone a foreigner. As we stamped down the Hyewon-school-hill, arm in arm, bright umbrella protecting us, I felt gratefulness flow warm and deep through me.
She said something else that I didn’t understand.
“Where are you walking? Where are you going? How are you getting there?”
“Oh. Oh. Next to emart, walk.” My Korean is really dreadful.
“No, no! Take the bus!”

I could only laugh.

As we reached the corner she broke our arm-link, and headed into a hair salon. I kept walking through the rain, calling thank you’s behind me.

Even though I ignored her advice and walked all the way home in the rain, it didn’t seem so bad.

There’s always something surprising here. I’m amazed at how much Korean I can understand now. I’m socked whenever people try to talk to me. I’m comforted by the random acts of kindness that I see around me – from the ajjumas to my students talking to me between classes, telling of fathers abroad and their crushes in church.

I just looked under my bed. The umbrella was there all along.


Women’s Film Fest

I’ve been in Korea for 8 months now. 8 months?? Really? Hmm.

I really enjoy my job. I think that middle school is a strange and exciting time to be teaching. But at the same time, I think that foreigners generally look at this type of job the wrong way.

Let me break down my school a little bit: We have 8 or 9 classes in each grade, each with about 36 students, give or take. ½ to 2/3rd of our students are on governmental assistance, and about two students in every class are from SE Asian/non Korean families, a huge amount for a homogenous country. Three students in every class have a difference of ability or (ha) are known to be disruptive. Each classroom has an elderly PC that may or may not work, with internet that may or may not work, with PowerPoint that may take more than 5min to boot up. My school serves pretty solid lunches; our students learn Chinese, English and Korean, and we serve almost exclusively a local community (since I live near the school, my weekends are often full of “Hi teachaaa!!” cat calls from my girls.)

Why do people come to Korea to teach? For the money, for the experience, for the opportunity to travel – and these aren’t bad reasons exactly. But this isn’t an easy gig. The kids here have needs that need to be met, and the government (and the entire English system) is willing to let a ton of relatively inexperienced teachers give it a shot for a year or two or whatnot.

I was reading some articles critiquing Teach for America, and I could draw an easy parallel between TfA and what I see a daily. Under resourced and over worked, perhaps schools across the world tell the same tired narrative. In both cases the callow and pretty are encountering the realities of educational systems that are challenging situations to begin with.

I think I’m an okay teacher. My classroom discipline needs work, and so does my direction giving. Nowhere near perfect. I’m here to make money, have fun, travel, gain experience… and to teach my kids. Yeah. Coulda just boiled it down to that.