It’s currently Sunday night a bit later than I should be awake given that I need to be up bright and early tomorrow morning.
Mondays are not my easiest days. I have two of my most difficult classes on top of the fact that no one wants to do much thinking at all on Monday’s, especially not in a foreign language.
But from where I stand now, I’m not dreading it. Thanks partially to very restful weekend and partially to a few good memories from last week, this is the first Sunday night in a while that I haven’t felt at least a little anxious about going to school the next day.
It’s those few incidents from last week that I wanted to talk about here. Just a few good moments with students, and in my new Korean life, that make the thought of staring at a bunch of unenthused middle schoolers on a Monday morning seem like maybe not the worst idea in the world.
Right now all of my students are gearing up for exams next week so things have been a little crazy. There have been some classes that have been so sleepy that we ended up just doing book work because no one would motivate past that level.
But it was good week for me in terms of interacting with students.
I have my regulars, the students who come in to my office everyday just to chat with me and bring me little presents.
I have the certain students in class who I know can be counted on to answer all of my questions.
And I have the ones who I can count on to definitely not say a single word in class but who want to talk my ear off in the hallway.
Some of them write me letters and I write letters back to them. On Monday one of my regular office visitors gave me a pen decorated with little cherry blossoms on it. On Tuesday her friend brought me candy and then I had the gift of this interaction that I’m going to try to describe but will probably not do very well.
Thursday afternoon one of my favorite little girls saw me in the hallway after I finished teaching in the classroom next to hers and fell into place next to me as I walked back to my office. This is the same girl who wrote me a letter the other day saying, “I am very happy you are in our school. You are always kind and beautiful. Thanks to you I became interested in English! You are my best teacher!”
Anyway we talked a bit and then I noticed that she was holding this very tiny little piece of paper where she had written down some questions that she wanted to ask me. Even as I sit here writing that it makes me a little teary. Which is ridiculous I know. (It’s been a long week.)
But honestly, who am I that this precious tiny little 12-year-old girl would take time out her life to look up how to ask me, “what did you think of our school lunch today?” To me that is an incredible honor. And I’m not really sure what I did to deserve students like that. I feel truly privileged to be her teacher.
I don’t even have her class on Thursday’s. Which means she either wrote that down with the intention of finding me somewhere throughout the day, or she remembered that I teach in the classroom next to her’s on Thursdays. Either way it makes me want to cry because of how cute she is. And I mean seriously cute. Picture a tiny little Korean girl with thick bangs, glasses, and a school uniform clutching this little purple post it note looking up at you. I’m going to cherish that picture in my mind forever.
That interaction alone gave me enough motivation to brave another week.
But here’s another. That, again, will be kind of difficult to explain but bear with me.
I’m doing a game with my grade one kids this week called “Who is this Game” where the basically I cover up a picture of a famous person with little blocks and then slowly remove the blocks and the students have to guess who it’s a picture of. (“Who is this?/This is so-and-so” are their key expressions for the chapter.)
And for the very last picture I take away the first block and say something along the lines of, “Okay last picture! Guys this should be eeeeeeeeeasy” in a very knowing, exaggerated way. Even though the first block only shows a piece of the person’s jacket I wait for a little bit (despite the cacophony of “teacher one more!!”) and ask if anyone wants to guess.
And in four of my different grade one classes there has been one student who got it right away because they know me.
I like exactly one Kpop group, they’re called BTS. And my favorite member of that group is Min Yoongi. I use both BTS and him in a lot of my examples on PowerPoints or in the games we play because they think it’s hilarious and it keeps them engaged.
So when we came to this picture, after a bit of hinting from me, there would be a moment that one of the students would get it. It would click in their mind that this has to be a picture of Yoongi and I would hear the “AH!” right before the sound of one of them running up to very proudly whisper the answer in my ear.
That was a very long-winded explanation all just to say this, in the moment that I would tell that student, “yes, that’s the correct answer” I feel like we shared a little secret. The rest of the class didn’t get it, but they did. Not because they guessed well from the pictures, but because they know me well. And that makes me feel really special. It makes me feel like I have a place at this school. I don’t always feel like people listen to me here, but the fact that a few students could guess that answer tells me that at least some people are listening.
One of my younger boys also really loves this band so he always trys to talk to me about them. He even gave me a little poster of them the other day. And so when his class got to this picture he guessed the answer immediately. I’m not sure if he understood me when I told him, “I knew that you would get it!” But it almost doesn’t matter. We shared a little something in that moment and at the end of the day that’s what my job is really about.
That also gives me the courage to face Monday Morning.
And the last little thing that happened last week was at the bakery that I frequent. There is a massive chain in Korea called Paris Baguette which is basically a little cafe/bakery and I often go in there when I either don’t have anything in my house for breakfast, or if I want to buy some kind of baked goods to bring in for the office. And seeing as it is always the same guy working and I am pretty sure I’m the only foreigner living in this neighborhood, he has started recognizing me.
He never says much, usually he’s busy setting things out for the day when I come in, so it’s just the perfunctory hello and goodbye. But last night I decided to go in on my way home from dinner with some friends because I wanted a desert and didn’t feel quite like going home yet.
I walked in, said hello, then browsed the treats for a bit before deciding on a little peanut-y bread thing. I brought it up to pay and he started to put it in a bag before he stopped and said, “one moment please.” Then he walked out from behind the counter into the store, looked for a moment, grabbed a cinnamon roll then came back and put it in the bag with my other item.
“It’s a cinnamon roll.” Was, I believe, all he said. He didn’t smile much or make a big deal out of it, probably because people give away stuff for free all the time here, but I think I said “thank you” 5 or 6 times.
Because for me it is kind of big deal. It means that I really live here. There are people who recognize me. I have routines that I’m starting to follow. And right now, here on a Sunday night, I’m actually ready to get back to work in the morning.
Things are good here.
Thanks for reading!