Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

수능 날 갑자기 오고 있고, 슬프다…


Today’s been full of surprises.

Normally I have first period free on Mondays free, but because of the 수능 (Suneung – the college scholastic aptitude test), we dedicated sixth period entirely to cleaning, and moved our sixth period classes up to first period, which is when students normally have individual study time. I found this out ten minutes before first period, but luckily I had had everything planned, so the only thing that I lost first period was my coffee drinking time.

It’s currently sixth period, and I’ve seen all sorts of strange things. The teachers are having the students clean with a fine-tooth comb. That’s not just an expression – I wouldn’t be surprised if I did see students combing the hedges. Earlier when walking through the second grade hallway I saw half of class 2.5 scrubbing the floor with tiny sponges. They had the sponges pressed under their indoor sandals, and were scrubbing the floor as hard as they could, creating giant soap suds. From where I’m sitting, I can see a student using a broom to clean the cobwebs out of the corners of the ceiling, something that doesn’t normally happen. Another student is taking a bucket of water and sloshing it down the steps of the side entrance to the main building. Students are scrubbing each individual step, then using a broom and dustpan to scoop up the residual water and place it in a second bucket. I wonder if they ever switched the buckets, and if so how long it took anyone to notice.

My first period coffee drinking time isn’t the only thing the 수능 has caused me to lose, I found out today that my lunchtime conversation partners, the three second grade girls I meet and exchange pronunciation tips and expressions with on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, will lose what little precious free time they have left, and starting on Wednesday will have English listening practice during their lunch periods. It doesn’t seem to matter that they have been doing that for the last two semesters, listening to a taped English voice and practicing listening questions is more important. I don’t mean that with any malice, it’s just the truth – when you’re a third grader, most if not all of your extracurricular activities, no matter how beneficial, disappear and you focus on test taking strategies.

I didn’t realize that this would be our last time together, though I anticipated that it would be sometime soon. I got to the abandoned room (labeled as the “special teacher preparation room” – as it’s the same room where I have my teacher’s workshop, and where I met students for YDAC preparation  I think I’m the teacher that’s used this room the most) where I normally meet the students a little early and edited a paper while I waited. I heard the telltale shuffle that precedes my students’ arrival, their haste to get to the classroom just barely outweighed by their concern for safety as they run in ill-fitting sandals and thus quickly move their feet vertically across the floor while barely moving their feet horizontally, and chuckled to myself. A few seconds later they burst in, looked at me, and screwed up their faces in exaggerated anguish.

Hi girls, it’s okay that you’re late, but I have some sad news – I can’t meet you on Friday.

TEACHER SO SAD. Today is our last day.

Wait, why? Today is our last day? I can’t see you on Friday but I can see you on Wednesday.

No no because we are soon 3rd grade, we have listening practice every lunch. So. Today is the last day.

…Oh. Now I’m sad too.

Teacher we want to thank you, because before we talk to you we are very shy students.

Haha no you are not.

Hmm maybe with other teachers no, but with foreign teachers we are shy. It is difficult to speak English. However, you help teach us funny expressions, and you gave us confidence. Now, we are not shy to talk to foreigners, and that is a wonderful thing. We prepared for you a present.

They then gave me the present – a headband, because they notice that I wear headbands a lot (pretty much everyday), and they thought this headband would match my personality and fashion sense well. They also presented me with three letters, one from each girl.

When you read our notes, try not to cry.

I’ll try not to. You must promise to talk to me every time you see me, and email me!

Got it.

That not crying thing? I’m barely keeping it together.

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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.