Saturday, February 19, 2011

And then there were two

Maria and Jesse: lovely friends, deep thinkers, inspirational

One more palace visit

Showing the traditional Lunar New Years' bow

Students wore their hanbok to school for Seollal (Lunar New Year holiday)

Tteok bokki for reading club snack: guaranteed to be an orange, sticky mess. Good thing Tina wore her nicest white shirt for such an occasion

Jasmin...or a little Seollal doll?

Our last birthday party of the year... Sean went all out

Jasmin waited all year long for her birthday party. So of course, she was granted princess status for demonstrating such incredible patience

After her crowning, she was presented with a scepter and given reign over the kingdom of classroom two

My girls

Me, Kelly, and Pikachu

Reading club loves, Anthony and Rafael. Always, always, always happy

Last bibimbap day for lunch at school. Bittersweet.

Once a month for 18 months...what will I look forward to now for that one magical Wednesday in the third week of every month??!!

To my nine year olds: I will miss you beyond belief...I think we're actually family now

Joseph: You have made me smile so much, even though you're pretending to be too cool right here by not smiling

Tony: Can you be my little brother?

Rafael (on the right): "Britney Teacher is go home to USA, and then my no more looking?"
Translation: When Britney Teacher goes home, I won't see her anymore?
Verdict: If only it weren't true, Rafael...
So happy to celebrate with proud of his progress throughout the year, what an incredibly special student :)

Weeks have been passing by. Slowly at first, and then with greater intensity. long ago now. Christmas, over. Spring, just around the corner. All of the major events I had once stored away in my mind, small tokens of mental strength to help me pass the time when the days and weeks until Home seemed so distant. Birthdays...field trips...visits from

But as it turns out...I didn't even need to rely on those. I didn't need any assistance in passing the passed all on its own, as I was busy living in the moment and finding myself fulfilled by the simple joys of the everyday.

And so I now find myself at a reality hits like a ton of bricks, on an innocent weekend day in mid-February...two more weeks.

The students know that in two weeks, "Britney Teacher is go home to USA." My family knows that in four weeks, they will be meeting me in the Minneapolis airport. Even the government knows that I'm on my way I received an alert of my pending visa expiration in the mail the other week.

But a pending visa expiration, and a departure date now set in stone, present me with more than just nostalgia and reluctance to leave. I know I have to leave....and I accept all the terms that come with it...but how can I leave without properly thanking everyone here first?

How do you thank a group of squirming, giggling little boys and girls for fulfilling your life in the past year, when they can't even speak enough English to understand the word "fulfill"?

How do you thank someone for serving you a hundred meals, for greeting you by name every time you enter their restaurant, for remembering that you like extra hot pepper paste with your food?

How do you thank the nine year olds who brightened your day, every Monday-Wednesday- Friday for the past year, who seem to be more a part of your family than just your students?

How do you express gratitude to parents who speak limited English, for the incredible privilege of getting to know their children every day for 12 months?

All of this...pending...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cebu Love

Why not celebrate Christmas in an airport with a bountiful holiday feast?
It was a long journey to reach the Philippines...too much transportation and waiting to describe...and a horrible Christmas evening spent in the tiny international terminal of Busan's airport...while I was coming down with the flu. Cebu could NOT come quick enough

7-Eleven FAIL...the only "dining" option in the international terminal

Thankfully, there was better food waiting for us in Cebu

Lovely breakfast, lovely travel companion Maria

Lovely poolside setting

Octupos tree...not to be confused with an octopus

Mangoes- 1 kilo for PHP 80 ($1.80)

Jeepney: hop on, hand over your coins, and holler when you want off!

Beautiful decorations at a cathedral in Cebu

Lovely beach

Rickety, but riveting, mode of travel

Frosty, cheap, local. San Miguel.

Mangoes on the beach! Mangoes on the beach!

Looks like a rock- it's not. A delicious rice cake with shredded coconut inside, grilled on the street. Like a beef patty...except not.

Preparing for a "waterfall massage"



Cliff jumping


Two months later, still dreaming of the Philippines...
Beautiful scenery, beautiful people...a kilo of mangoes for under $2
Colors, colors, trees and flowers, jeepneys and market stalls
A haircut for $3, a sparkling sea, and roosters roaming the streets
Papayas and pineapple for breakfast...pork in its every form
Open-air schools with courtyards, Catholic churches and cathedrals
Smiling faces in overcrowded cars, truck beds packed and stacked with passengers,
No GPS inside to direct children in the backseats with eyes and thumbs glued to their cell phones...
A constant babble of Tagalog's local tongue, ongoing dialogue of horns and brakes and motors
Blue skies, sandals, and bliss.

I was fortunate enough to see the Philippines through the locals...Maria's tito and tita (aunt and uncle) and some of their wonderful and incredibly generous family friends. These Cebuanos are some of the kindest people I've ever willing to engage in conversation, to ensure the most genuine experience of the city and its people, to make us feel welcome and like family. We were shuttled around by Maria's tito in his old blue truck, sometimes sitting out in the truck bed as he drove, enjoying the commotion that our whiter skin causes on the crowded streets around us. Scooters and jeepneys and bicycles whizzing around us, shouting out hellos, so close we could have reached out to pluck a mango from the passing trucks. We spent New Years' Eve with a wonderful Cebuano family...invited and welcomed into one oftheir beautiful homes to share in a feast with all their family...and then later to their hilltop mansion overlooking all the city, taking in a spectacular show of fireworks across the distant skyline at midnight. Amazing people!

Only one of the 7,000 + islands...and just a small sampling of Philippine culture...and only a handful of beaches visited...but enough kindness and generosity to stay with me for a lifetime...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas, please!

Kids weren't too eager to meet 'n' greet with Santa...and I don't blame them. He was all beard, no face! Creepy.

Enjoying some candy canes sent from Britney Teacher's mommy

I wished you a Merry Christmas

My ten little elves.

Magical gingerbread village on my classroom window...paper, glue, and glitter, oh my!

Please note the Kim Yu-Na gingerbread woman figure skating on the pond in the left corner...a hit with the Koreans, of course

Ten singing snowkids

Photo session by the Christmas tree

Merry Christmas! Love, Britney Teacher's class

Red Christmas dresses

Last day with a favorite student- goodbye, John- I will miss your electric-blue plastic glasses :(

Another Christmas away from home- no easier the second time around.
But still, it's debatable whose anticipation for Christmas was greater: the 5 year old students finishing their tenth month of intensive English immersion with the introduction of conjugating past-tense verbs...or the 24 year old teacher finishing her seventeenth month abroad and about ready to collapse from the sheer exhaustion of introducing the conjugation of past-tense verbs to said students.

Whew....Break. was. necessary.

I've never felt entitled to a vacation before this year's Christmas break from teaching (ahem- aside from the old high school whines over the injustice of never being granted the same warm weather, spring break getaways as my classmates. Boohoo indeed- those whines were merely in vain and merely out of obligation to fulfill my role of displaying teenage angst). To feel deserving of a break is a pleasurable state- knowing you've applied effort and persistence toward a goal or other definable end. To feel a sense of entitlement toward something more- a bit too self-indulgent, like an acceptance of complacency now that said goal has been achieved.

Nevertheless, I have to say again....Break. was. necessary.

Sometimes I forget that I am teaching children. Not the act of teaching in itself- one can never detach them self from the thorough presence and attentiveness necessary for such a job- but the reality of whom I am teaching. We can pound out workbook pages in a heartbeat, recite new vocabulary in the blink of an eye. We can recite vowel pairs and sound out double consonant blends and dutifully proclaim what the weather is like today. We learn English songs, pick fights with each other in English insults and retorts, and try to remember that "very many" is not a correct description of quantity for every single noun (once and for all, NO- we cannot be "very many happy!")

And somehow during those days of study...somewhere between the stacks of flash cards and rote memorization, the most important lesson of all got lost in the shuffle: we are just beginners. Only one person in the classroom is a day older than 7 years old (whether you're counting in English or Korean years!). The majority of the classroom, in fact, still needs assistance in blowing their nose and putting their shoes on the right feet. How could I have looked past their consistent habits of spilling milk as soon as the cup is handed to them...and their reactions of pouts and tears when a toy is taken from them...and their hugs and cuddles and sneaky ways of worming themselves into my heart, despite their most undesirable of behaviors displayed beforehand?!

They're still babies. We have packed them just about full to the brim with "English goodness" in the past ten months. Looking back on it...ten straight months of "work" with this class of kindergarten class alone...has not been work at all.

I deserved this Christmas break. But I was not entitled to it...this one was for the kids.

P.S. Chris, Crystal, Jamie, Jasmin, Jessica, John, Kelly, Ray, Sean, and Vicky all wish that you had a "very many happy" Christmas :)