March 12, Ducklings

I am really not joking when I say that I may have imprinted on my fifth graders.

I was down in the fourth grade hall and en route to room 5-4 when suddenly class 5-4 clamoured around me and shouted that we should walk together.

Slowly I was enveloped by a chatty group of ten year olds who happily marched me back to their room.

The 5-4 homeroom teacher doesn’t speak much English but actively participated. She offered to click through the PowerPoint for me and as our signal I shot her increasingly ridiculous finger guns.

After relevant video clips, dialogue listening, and phrase practice, I had the kids play a game S had found on the secret shared Korean teacher’s drive years ago. It’s one of the few that I like and I’ve kept it.

Essentially two students have to look at an image and say the associated target language. The first to speak correctly wins. There is also of course music and graphics and a general “cowboy” theme the kids love.

Everyone had gone but one boy. Suddenly the homeroom teacher and my faithful clicker piped up to volunteer.

The class went wild. She leaned into the role and goofily pretended to think so the student could win.

Unfortunately for him, he didn’t know so she ended up saying the answer to win and the class truly lost it.

It was such an absolute delight all around.

I wrapped up, said my final goodbye, and she told me on my way out that she would be better clicking for me next time.

I was caught off guard because she had already gone above and beyond— the class was so enjoyable with her that I simply said “uh no worries”. I need to send her a little note when I’m back in the office next week.

In my last fifth grade class of the day, I noticed the very cute and stylish young teacher filmed one portion from the back of the class. She must have thought her kids looked extra precious! Yana and even C in the past took photos of the students whenever they were “being cute” which was usually when they were working quietly.

In the cafeteria the fourth grader line rippled with excitement and shouted at me, to the extent that the lunch lady asked my coworker in Korean what all the fuss was about.

“Why is she so popular?”

I didn’t hear Jack’s answer because I was focused on one woman spooning a hefty portion of chicken thighs onto my metal tray.

“What do you think about Korean school lunch?” He asked me after we had parted the sea of adoring fans.

“I like it and I’m glad to have lunch. American schools don’t usually have lunch. Most people bring their own because school lunch costs money.”

Jack was aghast.

“But America is the richest and most powerful country in the world! Why do you have to pay for school lunch?”

That’s what I say too, man! I really wonder if America is as rich as it appears to other countries if not even school lunches are free…

“I also don’t understand why such a rich country has such a medical system…” He added.

Honestly Jack, I couldn’t agree more but to even begin that conversation we’d need more than a lunch hour.

After lunch, I prepped for next week then went back to the gym to sign up and use the facilities. It’s small but not very crowded, and none of the equipment looks like it’s going to fall apart and crush me (looking at you, Busan).

With my little apartment and activities I feel like I have a routine and a real life. It is such a pleasure.

A part of me has always thought if you have a routine you’ve officially given up— but I’ve come to know that even the most exciting lives still have bedtimes and gym memberships and laundry to do. There’s no shame in stability.

Hiking my little mountain, driving to Busan for Korean class, being loved by my students, baking chicken in my new little oven, making plans with friends for the weekend— I feel whole.

It’s true: right now I’m not curing cancer or working in science or founding a startup from my garage.

But.

I will not let the rain clouds of “wasted potential” or cultural expectation wash away a life that is good, happy, and whole all on its own.

age is no crime

but the shame

of a deliberately

wasted

life

among so many

deliberately

wasted

lives

is.

Excerpt from “Ham on Rye” by Charles Bukowski

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