Seohung Middle School: the First Day

29 Oct 2008
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

I've spent the past two days talking about myself. I have 18 different classes and in everyone this week I have to introduce myself and say as much as possible. Then I get to respond to questions from the students. Luckily this is highly entertaining, and keeps the process from being too repetitive. The most popular questions include: how old am I? (met with loud exclamations of disbelief and excitement. I gather the previous English teacher was 55, so perhaps that's why it's so exciting. Or perhaps I look really old. Or perhaps they think I am too young to be here?), how old is Jordan? (this is met with even more exclamations. From this I can only gather that most couples here are not the same age.), do I have a baby? (always said with numerous giggles, this is middle school I guess, and babies are funny), how tall am I? (I can't deny that I love this question. My co-teacher always reinforces my answer by taking off her shoes and standing next to me, showing that I am indeed several inches taller than her), how tall is Jordan? (clearly met with wild excitement and disbelief, since they already thought I was tall), is Jordan handsome? (of course), as well as many questions about my favorite things and my knowledge and enjoyment of Korean food (as if I would claim to not liking kimchee to any Korean). Some of the more interesting questions and statements have been: Is Jordan fat? (the answer was met with much disappointment), being told that I have a high nose (I took this as a compliment), having Edelweiss sung to me (I sang along) do I like beer (umm, no), and what do I want to be when I grow up (I lied and said a teacher). Erica also generated some interest in one class when a boy asked if she was pretty.

First Day 03

The co-teacher I've working with the past two days, Miss Doo, has been very nice and seems to find her students highly entertaining. She clearly enjoys them very much, even though they are loud and crazy, so that makes it fun to work with her. I believe I will have a total of 4 co-teachers I'll be working with and it will be interesting to see how they all handle the classroom.

My school is quite large. It contains grades 7,8 and 9, with about 300 students per grade broken up into nine different classes. I teach grades 7 and 8, since the ninth graders are preparing for some test and I'm not experienced enough to teach them. I'll also have conversation classes in the afternoons with specially selected students and faculty. These haven't started yet, but I'm looking forward to having more personal conversations with people.

My main co-teacher who has been helping me adjust to Korea is Ms Park. She was delighted to discover that she is the same age as my mom and declared herself to be my Korean mother. I think she may even have a daughter my age as well. At least one close in age. She is very kind and always telling me what to do. On the first day of school she decided I was too scantily clad and gave me her scarf to wear "in front of the students" and also gave me pointers about what shoes the teachers wear.

In the school everyone wears indoor shoes or slippers. The women all wear what look like normal shoes, the men where sandals, as do the students. I only have one pair of shoes with me. I don't have enough to designate one for indoor and one for outdoor. So I've been wearing various things. I guess my slippers were not acceptable to Ms Park. But I think come winter I'll be wearing them again, because my sandals will be a bit cold. I've decided to give them a week to get used to me and then I'll wear what I want on my feet.
For the first time in my life I've found myself eating hot lunch. I wasn't really given a choice in the matter, and it seems that everyone eats the school lunch, so I've been going along with it. Also, I think I may be paying for it somehow, so I figured I should eat it. But for a girl who wouldn't even eat hot lunch in the States where they serve chicken nuggets, this food is a bit of a stretch. But I've been eating it; I just tell myself that's it's very healthy and good for me to eat. Then I close my eyes and eat the seaweed that is served on the side. I also stuff my mouth with rice, since they don't have water with the meals, so I have to wash it down with rice. The highlight has been eating a donut with chopsticks. Today I had a chicken drumstick which I was at a bit of a loss how to eat. They offered me a fork, but I said, "in America we eat these with our fingers, a fork isn't going to help me."

The day is almost over now and I've been informed by the co-teacher (Miss Kim) who sits next to me that at 4:30 I go home everyday. So that leaves me about ten minutes. I've been taking the bus to school, which has been a bit of an adventure. Yesterday afternoon was my first time and I left school with the bus number in hand, but could not find a stop with that number. So I ended up getting on a random bus and pointing at the word 'university' to the bus driver (we live by Gunsan University, a nice landmark when you don't know your way around). Luck was with me and he told me the bus did go there. After riding the bus for a while I was a bit doubtful, especially when we drove to the edge of town to a huge industrial, scary park. But in time the bus driver pointed and I felt relief when I realized I knew where I was. This morning I was apparently standing on the wrong side of the street to catch the bus, but another bus driver stopped and got out of his bus and took me to the other side just as my bus was pulling it. So at least the bus drivers are very friendly and helpful. Everyone, with the exception of our super boss, has been very friendly and helpful, which makes everything much easier and enjoyable.

We love Koreans and They love us

Your blog is wunderbar! Your apartment is lovely and I love Koreans. Your stories about them make me laugh and miss my Korean friends from Germany. Jordan needs to post something so we can know what he is doing, but Marissa your life sounds so great. My love to both of you. --Celeste

Edelweiss... edelweiss... every morning you greet me...

Hey, your first-years are using the same textbook as the ones I have at Chungju Middle School! We had a lot of fun learning that song; next up (I think in one or two weeks) is "Scarborough Fair," which is really quite a bit more English than "Edelweiss."

I could have given you that list of questions, but there's one set you forgot: "do you know x?" If you don't yet know x, you're going to learn about it. "DO YOU KNOW BIGBANG!" "DO YOU KNOW RAIN!" (These are from girls.) "DO YOU KNOW CHA SEUNG BAEK!" "DO YOU KNOW PARK TAE HWAN!" (These are from boys.) And of course there's the ever popular, "DO YOU KNOW BUSHIE!" by which they mean, "do you know George W. Bush?" Exactly how these questions are supposed to be answered remains a mystery to me... except of course for, "DO YOU KNOW DOKDO!" to which the proper response is some variant of, "yes, I think that Dokdo belongs to Korea."

I recommend going to the Lotte Mart and buying some indoor shoes. They cost about five bucks and it'll save you a lot of grief... the school will even give you your own shoebox with your name on it, which makes you feel warm and accepted. And yes, women bundle up here, a reminder of Korea ultra-conservative Confucian past---I haven't even seen bare arms, although for some reason miniskirts are a totally acceptable component of school uniforms.

As for the food, good job and keep it up! I too suffered greatly during my first few weeks, but I kept on thinking to myself, a few tears here and I will be able to eat spicy food for the rest of my life. And you know, it actually worked. Recently I've been downing my kimchi and red-pepper filled soups with the best of the locals. Someone just gave me a Lotte hamburger for lunch and... I can't believe I'm saying this, but it was kind of boring. (But you'll have a ton of fun when you get your first fish... and you have to debone it using nothing but your chopsticks.)

And yes, the people here are fantastic.

tall, beautiful, smart, and eating kimchee!

Bravo, Marisa, for being so bold (and courteous) in your eating. It sounds like you're becoming a whole new person in Korea. (Next thing you know you'll be wearing Korean clothes and get a Korean haircut. :-)

Have fun! And keep posting.