Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Post-Chuseok Miracle and Tom Visits Korea

Here's what's new on the Suji homefront...

Last week was incredibly stressful. I wasn't sure I'd ever find myself saying that here, considering I am teaching kindergarten and 1st graders, but there have been so many demands at school lately. There were monthly tests to write, essays and vocabulary tests to correct, problem students to worry about, and an absurd amount of Halloween planning to begin. We began decorating our classrooms in preparation for this (important?) holiday. The best-decorated classroom will win a big prize...and I swear to God I will retire as a teacher if I do not win this contest!! If anyone really knows me, they'd know that I'll put my heart and soul into decorating and crafting something like this. So in the spirit of competition, and given my creative nature, I have spent every free second of the past weekend gluing, cutting, coloring, taping, and stapling every imaginable Halloween decoration. And in the spirit of the Orient...I will bring dishonor to my family if I do not win this classroom decorating contest! :)

I also had an important parents' meeting for my kinder parents last week. Picture this: 10 Korean moms and dads, crowded around a table in a small meeting space. I am the guest of honor (or should i say interrogation?), as all their eyes and ears are focused on me, sitting at the head of the table. The two school directors on my right translate to many of the parents as I introduce myself, go through our daily classroom routines, and then individually address every parent to share my comments on their child's academics and behavior. Awkward? Yes. Stressful? Yes. Scary? Yes.

Talking about my students is not the difficult part- I love to talk about them to anyone who will listen! And that's pretty much how many of our conversations outside of school end up- each of us sharing stories about our students, bragging about them as if they're our own children, or ranting about their odd behaviors (truly, the social conversations between any English teachers here, while out to dinner together or out on the weekends, will always come back to the subject of our students. Always.) I truly do have wonderful things to say about my kinders: I feel that I know them each, both as individuals and as a collective, very well. And I was pleased to hear one of the student's father compliment me on this from my weekly kinder reports to them- that I seem to be very in-tune with each student's personality. Maybe that's the psychology major in me? However, it was difficult to gauge just how much to share with everyone. My supervisors had told me to "be honest and tell the truth...just don't say more bad things than good things. Just try to focus more on the good things."'s the same thing when we write the kinder reports- we're really only supposed to write compliments and praise and give positive feedback. But what about those couple of students who really struggle in phonics? And the others who can't stay focused long enough to write just one word? I felt very restricted by what I could say to the parents- especially because it was in the presence of all the other parents!

I think it all turned out well, though, and I think I made a good impression (hopefully!). I really do love teaching each of these students- they're just all so different! I can never get over that, how much individual personality they exude at such a young age. I'm excited every day just to hear what kinds of crazy things they'll say!

In other Suji news: Tom Haeg has spent an enjoyable first 4 days in Korea with me! Since I was so stressed out last week, I was a little anxious for him to share my apartment and for me to entertain and be tour guide. But it has been SO great having him here- and he has fulfilled just about everything on his Korea Wish List:

1) Play squash with Canadian teachers at my school- CHECK
2) Play squash with locals- CHECK

3) Buy new glasses at the amazingly cheap Korean prices- CHECK (and he's already looking for a second pair!)

4) Wander up and down the streets while I am at school, making conversation with random people and trying to recruit more squash players for himself- CHECK

We had a great day in Seoul on Saturday- he was marveling the whole time at the miles and miles of high-rises. It was really interesting to hear his insight on the Korean economy and their development in the past decade (and no, I'm not even being sarcastic when I say that!) I showed him around Insa-dong, the artsy-craftsy district that I love (weird, I loving artsy-craftsy stuff?) We had a delicious traditional Korean lunch at an open-air restaurant off the beaten path (too bad Rick Steves couldn't join us!). That was my first time going into Seoul "on my own"- without any of the other teachers to help me. I think I did pretty well, getting us into the right area and then even finding the district we wanted to get to! Maybe I actually CAN figure out this Seoul thing...or at least 1/32 of it, as that's all I have probably seen of it so far.

We had the craziest but best random encounter with a Korean this weekend. On Thursday night, as I was sitting in my apartment along, waiting for my cell phone to hopefully ring with news that my dad had (somehow) arrived in Suji and had (somehow) gotten hold of a phone to call me on, I heard from him. Too bad he had no idea where he was...and I had no idea where he was...and basically, I had no idea where I even was, considering that my apartment building and the streets around it don't even have names! I had begun to panic in the past hour, realizing that my dad could end up in any number of suburbs across Seoul...and how would I ever be able to find him?

As it turned out- a Korean had gotten off the airport shuttle behind him, as he saw how frantic and uncertain my dad looked. The man offered use of his cell phone to call me, and when my dad couldn't say where he was, the Korean got on the phone and directed me to them. We were both still on the phone, me thinking recognized the general area where they supposedly were, and both of us still on the phone, when BAM!! I turned the corner on the street and there they both were! It was a Chuseok miracle!!

This Korean was so kind- he spoke English very well and had obviously helped us both out a lot! Had it not been for him, Tom Haeg could still be on a wild-goose chase throughout the city of 13+ million right now. The man wouldn't accept any money, and instead gave us his business card, saying that it is his duty, as a person of hotelier profession, and as a Korean, to guide those who are lost- especially foreigners. We were both ecstatic about how lukcy that episode had been- and how generous that Korean man was.

BUT: the plot thickens thicker! This afternoon we took a rest at some benches atop a local mountain in Suji, where we had been wandering up the trails. Suddenly, a Korean man walks right up to us, says hello, and then sits down. "Good to see you, " he says, "Don't you remember me?"
Well, of course neither of us did...awkward! But then the man said, "from the bus stop the other night...," and it clicked! He was the guardian angel Korean man who had helped Tom Haeg reunite with his daughter!! Of all the people in this nearly 1 million-populated suburb of Seoul...we happened to run into him on the top of a mountain on a Sunday afternoon!!! There's no way this was chance- I know this was something of God's doing. How could it not be?

We sat and talked with him for about 20 minutes. He was a very interesting, engaging, and clever man! His English was very good, but he said he had only learned it by listening to "Voice of America" long ago...pretty impressive! He told us about his family in Suji, his work, and even discussed North Korea/South Korea politics with my dad. Then he very generously showed us the shortcut trail down the mountain, and the quickest way back to my apartment area. Along the way, he called his wife and daughter to drive by and meet us! It was such an amazing experience- meeting this extremely kind and generous Korean who was so willing to not only help us because we were foreigners, but who also took the time to get to know us. He told me many times to please call or email him or his daughter if I have any troubles in Suji, or if I ever feel lonely and want a good Korean meal!

It was a really great way to end the weekend- how can something like that not make you feel good??

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