Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

Names

April10

My boys, my boys.

Imagine, if you will, that every time I say “my boys” in this blog I do it with a slight shake of my head and a smirk, and you’ll get a good idea of our relationship.

This week I’m working with the second graders on numbers. Two second grade boys classes have discovered that the word “Million” is similar to “Emily” (… it really isn’t). The Million Photos of Sky jokes are going to start rolling in any day now. Today I also taught some second grade boys how to say “well played” after they kept yelling “GOOD PLAYING! WAHOO! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” at each other after every single math race game.

Today I also saw one of my favorite students run down the hall arms frantically revolving like a windmill. “HI EMILY TEACHER!” he said, then quickly grabbed his mouth. “I have to be quiet because my best friend is… how do you say… violent?” At that moment, his friend BURST out from the neighboring homeroom and proceeded to BEAT HIM OVER THE HEAD WITH A PLASTIC BROOM.

What is my life.

Today I met my girls for after-lunch conversation club. Imagine that when I say “my girls” I make a little heart with my hands and beam. These girls have asked me to help them choose English names, and have told me that they’d pick out Korean names for me. I tried to pick out names for them that either had similar meanings, or sounded like the first letter/syllable  of their Korean names (The students names are 승리: seungri, which means victory, and 조경: jo kyeong, which means… well, something about authority towards elders, it was a bit difficult for her to explain). I offered a number of choices, and they chose Serena and Jamie. They then presented me with my name, 인애. 인애 is not a very common name, and it was a bit difficult for them to explain. There are many different Chinese characters that become 인 when brought into Korean, but the one they chose here means 참다: to bear or tolerate, and 애 means love.

As a general rule, I don’t like the idea of giving students English names. Obviously this is different, as it’s on a one-on-one basis with students I regularly see during lunch time, but I’ve done it before as a class-wide exercise – during my first semester at SGHS I had students pick names from a sheet of paper and write them on their name tag. With the exception of a few students who DESPERATELY wanted to be named something other than what was on the sheet (I had a few Lady Gagas and an entire class filled with Brazillian soccer players), no one chose anything too extreme. However, not only did that prevent me from learning their real names, but also other teachers had no idea who I was talking about, when I would mention Messi from class 1.1.

Names are important, and names are powerful. During the Japanese occupation period not only did Koreans have to learn Japanese at the expense their native tongue, but they had to give up their names and adopt Japanese ones. While my class is obviously nothing like the Japanese occupation, I can’t help but cringe when I think of stepping in as a foreigner and asking my students to chose fake names from my language. Because that’s what they are – fake names that they use once a week during English class. There’s no real connection to the names, and even if they know the name’s meaning, it’s still just an assumed, temporary identity.

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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.



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