My husband left for a few weeks, and someone else stole my heart.
It might have been day two or three, or maybe even the first time I heard them repeat a word in English, muttering as to not disturb anyone, but still wanting to hear themselves say it. Maybe it was when they called me, "Teacher" for the first time, or explained and then apologized why they fell asleep in my class. I'm not sure, but either way, I do believe my heart was stolen politely and quietly by the youth of Korea, and thus, Korea itself.
I've said this before, but it is so hard to explain the gravity of a student on the edge of their seat, waiting for you to say a word they don't know so they can repeat and commit it to memory.
Today I met with a woman I will be tutoring once or twice a week after we are both finished teaching at our respective schools. She is a Korean who teaches Chinese who has a dream of learning English well enough that she is no longer shy or nervous to speak it. She told me she was nervous to talk to me, and I made sure to tell her she was much more adept than she realized, which was no stretch.
I have found it to be true with her, my students, co teachers and the people I have had lunch with on schools days that it is a challenge to talk simply (and slowly...) but also use regular jargon that makes everything seem much more natural than the rules they know so well from studying their books. And this has done wonders for my understanding of just how complex the English language is, something that I have never totally had to understand. For example, when I greet the students when they come in to class, I have to make a conscious effort to not say "hello", followed by "how are you" because they have learned and will repeat until their death to say hello and also immediately "I'm fine thank you, and you?" It is like clockwork. This is a typical conversation at the beginning of class:
me: "good morning! how are you today?"
student: "I'm fine, thank you, and you?"
me: "I'm doing really well today, thank you for asking...how is your day going, good or bad?"
student: "I'm fine, thank you, and you?"
Forcing myself to speak as I would normally, in a regular-school setting is something I hope will stick with them in order for them to learn other ways of greeting each other. Of course, every single textbook tells the students to respond how they do, so they will still do well in the grade book.
I didn't realize but the second I stepped foot in that school, I would be regarded as the "expert" of the English language. (if they were to examine my test scores and school records, they'd find how misguided that may be) I am asked daily, sometimes more than once, to check the grammar and usage of a particular sentence or paragraph, especially now that finals are coming up next week. If you know the really weird things about me, you probably know that editing is something that has always gotten me excited. There is no better flattery than someone asking me to edit a paper of theirs. And here I am not only allowed to do that any day of the week, but it is expected of me.
There are other ways Korea has stolen my heart. Seeing it through the eyes of people who have just arrived to the squadron make the country come alive. I took a few people on their first train ride to the shopping mall a few stops away (which is coincidentally just a 10 minute walk from my school) and even though Tyler and I spent his birthday there, and I have been a couple other times, was blown away anew by each of the 10 floors, and the rooftop garden that I had never noticed before. Korea does shopping and entertainment really well, and this building is no exception.
Of course, I would be amiss if I didn't acknowledge the fabulous Fiendettes who stuck around this summer, even though our husbands are all away. I have received a couple awesome gifts from my Secret Sister and it is driving me nuts trying to figure out who is spoiling me! Whoever gave this awesome personalized breakfast tray (with both of our names/"call signs") had it delivered to my front door by the time I got home from school last week!