June 23, Threads

I thought to myself today, you know, I should start learning Arabic.

I mentioned to my father that these days I have a huge mental block between my second languages. When I try to speak Spanish, which I studied for seven years, Korean comes out. I can’t remember basic phrases like “how are you?” or “are you wearing a jacket?” My dad suggested I’m too deep in Korean and probably need a break.

I’m considering adding some easy conversational Spanish tutoring to my schedule and maybe doing an introductory course or two in something wildly different, like Arabic.

According to the homeroom teacher for 6-2 at the travel school, Maria, while peas in a pod with girls in English class, struggles to communicate in Korean. I want badly to talk to her in Spanish but my brain regurgitates undigested bits of other languages, instead.

In class, Yana asked Maria for her little brother’s name. The one who swivels around on his lunch stool to grin at me while I’m eating.

“Juan.”

“후안? Hoo Ahn?” Yana asked. I laughed silently beneath my mask. Maria nodded uncertainly.

Little Juan has lived the last two years as the only foreigner in his preschool class, further confused by a pandemic which has prevented rough and tumble play with his classmates. The preschool teacher seems to get easily annoyed with Juan who seems to have no idea what’s going on for most of lunch. I feel bad for him, but I also haven’t experienced a full day of five year olds.

The science teacher, the one who wrote a book, was also on edge today. I saw him lecturing three boys through the lab window, each of their faces turned down in shame. Later, the sound of broken glass being swept up hinted at what might have transpired.

At lunch, he snapped at three pre-schoolers loudly playing rock paper scissors across from the plastic COVID dividers. I felt bad for them, too, they’re bored kiddos with nothing to do but wait until their comrades are done picking at the food on their trays.

He also appeared in the teacher’s lounge and slumped into a chair with a heaving sigh. I don’t know what’s happening in his life but I didn’t want to test him either. I hoped he wouldn’t see the 150 copies I was making for my main school (the printer in our main office is terrible) and even though the machine beeped at me to get more paper and a kind teacher rushed out to find me more, he luckily didn’t pay too much attention and I avoided his wrath.

Last week I also learned, from eavesdropping, that Maria has a crush on one of the quiet breakdance boys. Her homeroom teacher begged us not to say anything so instead I watched her track him with her eyes with the kind of pure yearning that anyone who’s had a crush at 12 knows intimately.

Her crush has been getting better at English by leaps and bounds and even giggled while reading an amended sentence to say, “I’m going to go to the club” instead of “I’m going to go to the concert”. If it makes him laugh and want to practice, I don’t mind! His friend to the left and I also hopped onto the same wavelength and its nice to have a co-conspirator at this school where I feel most students (maybe just all of 6-1) would be happier if I jumped out the window.

My excitable fifth grade student approached me after class to tell me even more about himself: “My mom is from Daegu and my dad is from Jinhae.” He’s the same boy that babbled to me in Korean about pizza and his grandmother. The other students get annoyed with him for his lack of social graces but I find him endearing.

I’m grateful for Maria’s class and the other asides because time seems to drag on incredibly slowly at this school.

Even though Yana and I have our office in the science storage room, I prefer it to the office of my main school. I’m about to throw that computer out of the second story window. My monitor is not even a rectangle, it’s a square. I didn’t know monitors after 2001 could be this shape. It also probably has ten thousand viruses because the amount of knock off security programs we are required to install just to run basic applications seems to cause more harm than good.

If I want to get anything done, like my new English friend who is studying for her Master’s in Spanish translation, I’ll need to bring my own computer for the weeks of desk warming this summer.

That same new friend brought up an interesting point to me– she said she had made friends during the pandemic but felt isolated. She realized that she needed a cultural connection that Americans and Canadians were not providing.

It makes me think– just how culturally different is the U.K. from the U.S.? And which of Britain’s children are closest and farthest from its parent country? I never realized before but all of my English-speaking expat friends of American, followed by South Africans. I’ve never come across an Australian though I know they’re here.

Britain has been around for so, so long. Would one say that it’s more culturally similar to a European neighbor than say, its wine-drinking rebellious teenage children?

How easy I’ve had it, with my American expat friends. Britain is old country and almost unintelligible to me. I’m used to chaotic history, immigrants, funny cultural practices, friendly chit chat. Maybe that’s why I feel closer to Americans and Koreans and other Asian immigrants than those from the motherland.

I’d like to visit Britain one day and get a taste of what it’s like, though maybe not literally as we’ve all heard that the food is, uh, nothing to rave about.

The question of culture and race is an interesting one to mull over. How strange to feel more culturally aligned with my local friends whose democracy hasn’t even celebrated its 100th birthday than to my tea-drinking forefathers.

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