Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

Inflating Hopes and Happiness


Here’s a reminder to myself to think things through. Would it be cute to have pictures of all of my students holding tiny balloons with the things that make them happy written on them? OF COURSE IT WOULD BE. Is it practical, feasible, hygienic, or quiet? Not at all.

For my first second grade lesson of this semester, we talked about happiness and Bhutan, and whether Gross National Happiness was a better or worse scale than Gross Domestic Profit. This was all in conjunction with the things I usually do during my first week of lessons, like take individual pictures of the students and have them write self-introductions on flashcards.

This week I decided to pretend that I had kept with the theme of happiness all semester and made my final lesson also about happiness. We used the amazing Balloons of Bhutan project (which we briefly referenced during the first lesson as a way to introduce the idea of GNH) and watched the last half of this Ted video, where Jonathan Harris, the artist, explains the project and shows pictures of the people he interviewed.

Then, I had all of the students answer five questions that were similar to the questions that Harris had asked his interviewees, and then gave them all a balloon to blow up and told them to write down their own “recipe for happiness” (i.e., what makes them happy) on the balloon.

Mass chaos ensued, pictures of which I’ll post in a gigantic balloon-filled blogpost on Friday or Saturday.

Within the whirlwind of activity that has been giving students balloons meant to be filled with water (and thus are much thicker and harder to blow up. whoops), there have been some very sweet moments, one of which I want to take a moment to detail.

I was walking around 2.4’s classroom, second grade boys, feeling rather motherly as I helped twist balloons around my finger, both tying them and cutting off my circulation in one go, when  I saw a student named HS who had finished writing out his recipe for happiness and was waving around his balloon, showing it to anyone who cared to look. I walked over and asked to see what he had written. A smile lit up his face, and he shoved the balloon at me. On it, he had written “my crush on KD.” I asked if she knew, and he looked shocked and replied that of course she didn’t know. Fair enough, I countered, and told him that he had made a good choice. He laughed.

Soon after this conversation, students finished up writing on their balloons and I told them to gather for a class photo. As they were all lining up (and by lining up, I mean scrambling over each other to either hide in the back, or sprawl out in the front for the picture) HS shyly asked me if he could have another balloon. I told him not to worry, that he didn’t have to show his message, and that he could hide it with his hands, or tilt the words away from the camera.

The photo I eventually took is incredibly silly. The students wouldn’t stand still, so I took it while they were still in motion, jumping over chairs and hanging off of each other. Some of them are hitting others in the face with their balloons, some of them are jumping up and down in the back, and I have a few students hugging each other. If you look carefully you can see HS to the right, one hand making a peace sign, the other hand carefully cupping the words so that it looks like blank balloon, with a half-smile on his face.

Soon after that the bell rang, and the students went wild. Whereas my female students had tried to keep the balloons inflated, by taping them to their desks or giving them to friends, my male students actively tried to destroy them. They decided to see who could pop the balloons the loudest, by kicking the balloons, punching them, or by smacking them into each other’s faces. HS was one of the few who decided not to pop his, and as I left class he was still cradling his balloon protectively in his hands.

posted under Cute Stories, School

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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.