March 9

Last week, co-teacher Helen told me the sixth graders have nunchi. Nunchi, as I’ve mentioned before, can be EQ or the ability to “read the room”. My Seoul sixth graders were not mature enough to have nunchi, but Helen was right about this group.

They are clever, funny, engaged, and easy to form a relationship with. I so much enjoy teaching on my own.

Except for one rowdy fifth grade class– they weren’t bad but two kids did have the theatrical need for attention. However, their homeroom teacher, a young man and unlike the capable-looking male fifth and sixth grade teachers, asked me after class if next time he could go to the teacher’s lounge during my lesson.

“Uh…” Helen told me earlier to let her know if any teachers leave during my class. I have good management, though, so not a single one of the teachers of my 18 classes has needed to intervene at all. Some stayed in the back to grade, others participated, and the rest flitted in and out. I honeslty didn’t pay attention to the homeroom teachers aside from entering and exiting their classes. Because of COVID, I migrate from class to class instead of meeting my kiddos in the English classroom.

“Sure, you can go to the lounge next class,” I answered him hesitantly. All he did was work on his computer while I taught which didn’t particularly seem like a chore but I suppose if he wants to kick back and drink coffee out of the eyes of his class, he should bounce.

But if his class acts up, I’m making him come back as punishment.

The kids overall impressed me with their easygoing, fun, and mature attitude. Surprisingly, no one gasped in awe that I spoke to them in Korean on occasion.

My favorite quotes from the day are:

Me: What’s my favorite hobby?
A very excited girl: Meeting your boyfriend!

Ha, I wish!

Pororo is a famous penguin cartoon character from a Korean kid’s show and I used it as part of our drill until:
Me: “Hello, my name is Spiderman. I’m a superhero. Hello, my name is Pororo. I’m a…” actually I don’t know, what is Pororo’s job?
Student: Teacher, he’s unemployed.

Pororo The Penguin | K-Drama Amino
Pororo, the unemployed penguin.

“Do you have a plan for marriage?”

I paused in eating the school’s hamburger steak lunch to look at co-teacher Jack. Helen eats high protein meals in the office so it’s just us two that eat in the cafeteria together.

“No,” I answered simply, “but I know my parents want me to move back to the US and get married.”

“Wow, I didn’t know American parents were like that.” He reacted in an uttering I’ve heard several times before.

He sat in minute shock, the kind I have seen many a time on Koreans who grew up during national economic hardship and saw the US through the early post-war lens. Jack told me last week that when he was growing up, all the American TV shows had big houses, big cars, and… bananas.

“I didn’t taste a banana until I was twelve.”

Jack is also very interested in guns and is fascinated that people can have them and that not every American does. There are many Korean Jacks whose view of America is firmly rooted in late American globalism. News of Texas freezing over, of gerrymandering or racial reckoning, of the failure of our government to address COVID in its early stages, never reaches these Jacks’ ears. America remains a symbol of freedom and riches in their eyes.

Later, co-teacher Helen asked what I was up to since I seemed busy all the time. She wanted to chat but didn’t want to interrupt, and I learned an important culture lesson about bonding with teammates.

We talked about gyms, ice rinks, martial arts, dating people taller versus shorter, and my quest to get a Korean license. (Yes, I am going to buy a car!)

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Helen at first, we never quite seemed on the same page, but now I know we just need time to get to know each other.

Jack is pretty much what you see what you get.

I needed his input on which textbook section to teach Thursday but he disappears from our shared English office for hours at a time. I asked Helen and she laughed, “yes, he goes somewhere around this time to… take a rest?” Jack doesn’t seem like the most ambitious of teachers but I appreciate his consistency.

Helen encouraged me to check out both gyms near me, “feel the vibe,” she said. I counted myself as having improved my Korean skills when neither gym receptionist commented or told me my Korean was great. Lack of compliments means leveling up. One of us! One of us!

I did of course struggle with numbers when one beefy PT at gym #2 explained the busiest times, and I also forgot the word for “take off shoes” because Korean has specific and separate verbs for put on/take off depending on the type of clothing (ex: you “do” a scarf, “tie” a necktie, “pull on” socks, “twist on” a ring, etc).

Even though I had forgotten the word “seven”, I felt pretty accomplished overall. The second gym was less fancy but more crowded, with old folks as well, which immediately told me it was more affordable than the chrome gym across the street. The towels and gym clothes are also “service” (my favorite Konglish, it means complementary). I told the PT I had to think but I’d likely come back tomorrow.

I got home, popped chicken in my new toaster oven, and felt happy in my new little abode. This city is not big or bustling but it’s close to Busan and Changwon. It’s distanced enough that I don’t feel overwhelmed during the week or guilty for simply going to a cafe in the evening, but close enough to city centers that I’m motivated to get out on the weekends.

Sometimes I feel that I’m not allowed to want things long term because I have a duty to return home and be with my family. But I’m really happy in my little corner of the world.

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