Alas, winter is just about here and I’m whining about it already. I hate the cold and we aren’t even feeling it full force! But hopefully in the next few months I can get some snowboarding and ice skating in!
At school I have been doing a few holiday lessons with my classes. I began with Thanksgiving and showing them clips of other Thanksgiving traditions they may not know about–Thanksgiving day parade, Black Friday shopping, lighting of the NYC Christmas tree, and so on. My co-teachers hadn’t known about Black Friday and some of them even went online shopping after I told them about it! It’s common here to buy things online from America already and Black Friday/Cyber Monday gave them a good excuse. (Of course, one of my CTs just realized that Black Friday can be a bit of a scam–she was disappointed when she saw Amazon offer a lower price for her item a few days later.) We’ve gone over some Christmas songs too, and since some of them know common songs such as All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey, they actually sing along! I was surprised at how little my classes sang songs that I taught them throughout this semester but fortunately they seem to love singing the songs that they already know.
This past weekend, I mostly spent in Yeongwol to help one of my co-teachers at her church. She teaches a class of five-year-olds (in western age, three and four-year-olds) at her church. I’m not sure what she’s usually supposed to teach them exactly but I think it’s to get them knowing some basic English and singing some songs. At school when we talk about her teaching this class she seems worried and a little self-conscious as she is used to teaching high schoolers and not such small children. This weekend she was teaching them some English Christmas songs and wondered if I’d come to help her. At first I said yes to be nice but when the day came it was actually really fun and a different experience for me. Until then I hadn’t had a chance to interact with any young Korean children, and they are SO cute! When I got there some of the children were really shy. Actually, I think this was their first time meeting a westerner and a few of them kept pointing or laughing or just being bashful in general if I spoke to them. We sang some Christmas songs that my co-teacher selected (one of which was Feliz Navidad–not sure why she chose this one but okay!) and then ate some tteokbokki which is a stir fry with rice cakes. It was pretty yummy but also had fish cakes in which I kind of forced down but I do love rice cakes! The awesome thing about rice cakes is that they can take on any flavor. You can eat them as a snack, in a dish, or as something sweet. My favorite way to eat rice cakes is in dakgalbi, one of my favorite Korean foods. I’ll have to do an entry with some pictures next time we eat it 🙂
I know from my time here and my research before hand that Korea was known as the “hermit kingdom” and historically has not had much exposure to foreigners. Sometimes in my day-to-day life this is hard to keep in mind and consider, because as far as I’m concerned I come from the land of diversity and can’t imagine living otherwise. Every time I travel abroad I realize how much I treasure and adore the diversity of the United States. I love having different foods to try, meeting people from various backgrounds, and seeing so many diverse appearances on the streets of America. When I experience the reactions of my students or other Koreans to foreigners such as myself, I especially value the open-mindedness that results from being raised in a multicultural country . Seeing how shocked some children are at my appearance, to the point where some don’t even want to sit next to me, almost blows my mind. I say almost because I already knew that small Korean children might react like this if they’ve never seen a westerner, but still. It’s as if I am a different species to some people! A friend of mine even told me this weekend that one of his elementary school students told his mother he was afraid of his English teacher. When asked why, the child said, “because he has blue eyes.” I couldn’t believe that these children have such little exposure to different looks or ethnicities! Some of my high school students (who have had English teachers such as myself in the past) still giggle and turn away nervously as if they don’t know how to react to me.
How odd it must be to spend your whole life living with and looking at people who all look the same as you, only to grow up and get plastic surgery to look alike even more. I’m sure you can imagine the type of mindset that comes along with the lack of diversity as well. Despite how strange these looks and treatments can be, I don’t feel negatively or take it personally. That being said, I’ve never experienced a Korean being particularly cruel to me. I mostly embrace being so different as a wonderful opportunity to expose my students to different ways of thinking and open their minds. I really enjoy being a “cultural ambassador”.
This weekend and next weekend will be my winter English camp. During the winter and summer breaks, schools hold an English camp to give students an opportunity at extra English instruction, especially for those students whose parents maybe can’t afford sending them to hagwon, or private after school academies. Typically they are offered during the break but this year mine will be two full days, this Saturday and the next. It’s a little stressful to plan for two 7 hour days of English instruction but I think I have a pretty good general schedule going. I will break the days up with some arts and crafts and cooking–making dream catchers, quesadillas, watching a Christmas movie, etc. Still no definite count on how many students will be joining me for it but I do get to have some other EPIK teachers in town help me so that’s a plus 🙂
Keep warm everybody!