This weekend was Chuseok, a Korean harvest festival based on the lunar calendar. Often called “Korea’s Thanksgiving,” Chuseok is a time for feasting, gift-giving, and spending time with family. It was the first time my busy host family shared a meal together, and it was my first time meeting my host dad’s family.
When I was in high school, no topic in English class was more despised than poetry. The student consensus was that we would either read Edgar Allen Poe for the twelfth time or we would read some obscure poem about flowers. Even though I like poetry, especially the medieval poetry I read in college, I was hesitant to teach an ESL class about poetry. The class would be for my more advanced students, but I wasn’t sure if the topic would be too difficult. After much deliberation, I decided to teach rhyme and rhythm, share examples of English poems, and write a poem together as a class.The result: I learned that kimchi is sexy, Taylor Swift likes sweet potatoes, and apparently there IS a word that rhymes with spaghetti!
I have a feeling this will become a regular feature.
This weekend is a holiday called Chuseok, and one of the Chuseok traditions is to give gifts to your family. I knew we would be visiting Host Dad’s family for Chuseok dinner, so I wanted to buy a gift for my host family and for his parents who would be hosting us.
On Thursday I went to Homeplus, where a dizzying array of gift sets awaited me. Spam and cooking oil. Lotions and shampoos. Socks and underwear. Coffee, green tea, cocoa. What to get, what to get…?
I stumbled upon a set of jars with pictures of fruit on them. Yum…jam! My host family often eats toast, I thought. They loved my thumbprint jam cookies. This would be something practical because they would eat it, but also a nice gift because they wouldn’t usually buy it for themselves. I’ll take two!
Look at this lovely jam set. Just look at it.
It’s a good thing I always feel compelled to give a gift as soon as I buy it. Because it turns out, that’s not jam.
As the 4:30 bell rang, I grabbed my change of clothes and rushed into the restroom. It was our monthly Teacher Sports Day. Throughout the afternoon, I had flashbacks of elementary school Field Day. Relay races. Tug-of-war. Red Rover. And, of course, the fear of embarrassing myself.
Athleticism is not my strength. I remember that when I was in my seventh grade gym class, I tried to shoot a basketball into the hoop, but it bounced off the rim, then hit one gym teacher in the face and another in the stomach. When I didn’t think it could get any worse, I did the exact same thing the following day.
Nope. Definitely not my strength.
As the teachers filed into the gymnasium, I noticed that the women were still wearing their office attire. Most of the men had changed into shorts or gym clothes. I felt a little self-conscious and wondered if I had missed something.
Working with a textbook is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it provides exercises and prompts around a theme or a unit, so lesson planning is much easier. On the other hand, many of the units or individual exercises are not fitting for my students’ level, or they are awfully boring. This week’s textbook lesson had an interesting topic about future plans, but the textbook exercises would have been too hard (and let’s face it, too boring) for my students.
Luckily for me, I am responsible for teaching the writing section of the textbook to my second graders, while my co-teachers teach the reading and vocabulary sections. That means I have a lot more leeway to adapt the material or substitute my own exercises for those in the book. So this week, I did exactly that.
“Pick up your textbook,” I said to each class after ten minutes of doing the textbook exercises. My students looked at each other. “Go on, pick it up. Pick it up. Now close it. Put it down. We don’t need it.”
Remember when I wrote that I was feeling so much better about my Korean? Yeeeeah, maybe not so much!
After school today, Host Mom and I went to Homeplus to do some grocery shopping. Host Mom put kimbap in our shopping cart to have for dinner so we wouldn’t have to cook, but she wanted something else to go with it. After we paid for the groceries, we started walking toward the exit when Host Mom asked, “Ka-pu-shi mokollaeyo?”
Would you like to eat…Ka-pu-shi?
Linguistically, I’ve changed from a college graduate to a toddler.
A few months ago, I was writing my senior thesis, working on the campus magazine, and signing the final paperwork to accept my Fulbright grant. But when I moved here in July, I was lucky if I could communicate basic needs like wanting food or going to the bathroom. And if someone looked at me and started speaking Korean, I was (and still am) petrified.
I swear! I want to say every time I look helplessly for my online dictionary or glance at the nearest bilingual person in the room. I’m a reasonably intelligent human being!
It’s humbling and frustrating to be a beginner again. I’m used to being a fast learner and understanding new information quickly. But learning a language isn’t like that. Sure, I understand the grammatical rules. For some reason, that’s easy for me. I can write basic Korean sentences without a problem. But listening and understanding? Forming the sentences myself? It’s a herculean task.
As difficult as it is when you and another person are speaking to each other in two different languages, it’s much more difficult when you are speaking the same language but cannot understand each other due to pronunciation and regional accents. While I run into the former problem in my everyday struggles with speaking Korean, the latter problem is most common when I am helping my students with their English writing.
Today my students were writing a few sentences about their future plans. As I was walking around the classroom to help them, one of the girls called me over.
“Spelling…’liber’?” she asked.
“Liber?” I repeated, glancing at her paper for a clue as to what she meant. “What is ‘liber’?”
Ye Bin and I climbed into the taxi parked outside of Homeplus, our arms laden with groceries and shampoo. Ye Bin said our address to the driver, who did a double take when he glanced at the two of us in the back seat.
“Gimhae Jeil?” the taxi driver asked, glancing at me. He said something in Korean to Ye Bin, who laughed and shook her head.
“Aniyo,” said Ye Bin. She answered something else in Korean. The only two words I picked out were yeodongsaeng (“younger sister”) and daehakkyo (“university”).
“Did he ask if we went to Gimhae Jeil High School?” I asked Ye Bin as the driver pulled away from the curb.
“Yes – he remember you!”
“Get into your state groups,” I told my two Speaking and Writing classes this week. “We are going to create our own countries!”