Friday, April 24, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #6: The ride of a lifetime by Georgina Selander

The Ride of a Lifetime - by Georgina Selander

Selfie with my students from Yesan Girls Middle School
I stretch my eyes wide – showing her their yellow-brown irises. Quickly, I open my mouth to reveal a pair of sharp incisors. And just as I lean in for a bite… Snap! I pull back, watching as the bob-haired girl recoils in fear.

Today is the bi-weekly conversation class and the theme is phobias. It just so happens that one of my students, Da-Keong, has a morbid fear of yellow eyes. It also just so happens that I have a pair.

On Monday and Tuesday afternoons, 15-20 of the strongest English speakers join me in the English classroom for a 45-minute conversation lesson. The class is a delight – a reprieve from the repetitive “teacher, hi!” or worse, the sea of blank faces that characterises most of my day. It’s a chance for me to really engage with my students – to bring in interesting topics and to teach them English that extends beyond the parroted “nice to meet you”. And to cap it off, these students are enthusiastic and polite.

But enthused or not, I can’t deny that after any given day I’m thoroughly exhausted. In all my classes, I try my utmost to keep up a smiley disposition – and when the mood is low I try to liven the atmosphere with some innocent tomfoolery – breaking into wild song and dance usually does the trick. (Teaching hack #605: if you are having fun, so are they).

Over the din of chatty teens, it’s often necessary to project my voice – to the extent that by the end of some classes I’m shouting. Luckily I’ve now learnt to say, “Listen, everyone” in Korean. This is usually met with a moment of silence – generally as they’re impressed to have heard me speak Korean. It must also be noted, however, that generally in each class there’s one angel whose god-sent talent is to tell the rest of the kids to put an effing sock in it.

So, to get back to my long-winded point: although I undeniably love my job, I do look forward to the 4:30pm homeward stroll. It gives me time to reflect on the day, get some fresh air and, most importantly, scan the streets for any Korean hotties (sadly, talent is at an all-time low in my area).

Rainy spring day
On Thursday afternoons, (as my school is in a neighbouring town) walking is out of the question. Instead, around 3pm I make my way to the bus stop from Dae Heung Middle School (if you can call a rickety bench a bus stop). When the bus arrives it’s generally full of middle-aged ladies, each of whom give me a thorough dressing down as I slot my 2700 won into the money counter. I glance over the rows of sunhats, gloves and zimmers. Without fail, all ajummas (middle-aged to elderly women) dress like they’re about to do some serious gardening.

I make sure my shoulders are hidden from view (side note: although it’s not uncommon to see Korean girls with shorts so short you can almost spot a v-jay, shoulder-showing is a big no-no! A strange epitome of ultra-conservative-meets-ultra-modern Korean society).

But on this particular Thursday, a few minutes before the bus was due to arrive, a black truck with tinted windows rolls over. Now let me make something clear, the sight of a slowly approaching darkened vehicle in South Africa signals only one of three things. A) You’re about to be shot: run for your life. B) You’re about to be kidnapped: run for your life. C) They just popped a tyre: run for your life.

But being in Korea, all new situations – life-threatening or not – are relatively novel. And so, when the car in question rolled up and the darkened windows rolled down, I was more amused than afraid. Unfortunately the driver, who shouted out a mouthful of Korean, spoke not a word of English. But after some gesticulation, I ascertained that he was simply offering me a lift. Ignoring the don’t-take-sweets-from-a-stranger warnings of my childhood, I opened the door.

A few minutes into the ride, the driver began to pull over to the shoulder of the road. It was at this point that I started to assess the emergency exits and tried to recall the nose-throat-groin self-defence that I learnt from Miss Congeniality. It turns out he simply wanted to adjust the air-con.

The ride continued – and so did the Korean inquisition. Although I had no idea what the man was asking me, I responded with the basic Korean phrases I knew: telling him I was South African, that I was a Middle School English teacher and, essential to all phrasebooks, asking for the train station.

Eventually we approached my town. Although I tried to request that he drop me at the bus station, he insisted that he drop me at my home. (I can already hear my mother’s voice: GEORGINA! You showed him where you live?? I will smack you). As I got out of the car, I thanked him for his kindness and bowed deeply as a sign of respect.

Walking to my door, I smiled at the benevolence of the gesture. Call me naïve, but there’s a culture of good-heartedness in Korea that brings me happiness daily. From the simple gifts of fruit occasionally placed on my school desk, to the genuine concern from my co-teachers should I appear down, to the excited faces of my students when they spot me in the grocery store or at the train station.

It feels like to be happy in Korea is a simple recipe – although I’m still figuring out the ingredients. And for some reason, this makes me recall an exchange with one of my students earlier this week.

“Jisu, did you have a good weekend?” I ask.
“No, teacher.”
“Oh no! What happened?”
She bows her head. I prepare for the worst.
“My mother did not cook rice this weekend,” she replies.

**The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of The Knowledge Workshop but we find them hilarious anyway.

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