18 June 2014

Lunchee, Frenchee, and Englishee

It didn't take me very long into my communication degree at Bethel to figure out that I have what "they" like to call a "high external self concept", which means that I may or may not be easily persuaded by external factors. I'm not trying to point fingers, but this could be why my online shopping favorites coincide with which magazines/catalogs come to my PO box...or why I can read one article that says white rice is completely void of all nutrients and should never be consumed. Which explains why I would immediately throw out the 7 varieties of white rice in my cupboard only to read another article that says brown rice has more minute traces of arsenic than white because the "hull is still on the grain" and that's where the arsenic hides so if you must eat rice, white really is better. And so I proceed to dig in my trash and salvage the precious arsenic-free rice...but hey, I'm no scientist. Just your poster child for knowing your audience.

This is really the only reason I can think of to explain why, when teaching the English language in the state of Texas, my English actually got worse. Or why, as I am seeing all too quickly, I am now answering the students when they ask how "lunchee" was, I respond with a chipper grin, "lunchee was good!" Or when I finally understand what a student is saying, say very quickly, "okayokayokay" with full appreciation.

But don't worry, I still haven't totally mastered the Korean language or culture...after my first two days sitting in the English building eating lunch alone, I decided to jump feet first and get meals in the cafeteria, like the rest of the staff. And most of the time, the food is good! I ask my co-teachers to go ahead of me in line and tell me what everything is, of course...and most of the time, I eat all of my lunch. For example, today was delicious. There is usually a stew of some sort (almost always spicy); today was chicken and carrots. The cold salad of the day was an even spicier fresh cucumber with sesame seeds. The kimchi was the regular cabbage kind (delicious) and the soup was what looked and tasted like a collard green with onion miso soup. Of course with rice (cooked with different grains, to increase the nutritional value), which I always take a lot of, since I love rice and sometimes it's the only thing my taste buds can truly appreciate. I tried it all and finished most of it. 

For the most part, I'm glad I chose to eat lunch with everyone. For starters, the teacher's lunchroom is separated by a couple doors and is, as far as I can tell, the only part of the cafeteria with a working air conditioner. So for the most part it is comfortable, with the exception of sweating through all the spicy food and not understanding what my lunch buddies are talking about, unless they speak to me in English.

And then there are days when the co-teachers (Mrs. Pa and Mrs. Koh) don't know how to tell me that maybe I won't really care for the food that day (I told them that while I "like" seafood, I'm still learning to really "enjoy" it) for example...last week there was a particular dish that looked like a tasty cabbage salad. I followed suit and took a big pile of it (to compliment the fried mackerel that I took but basically convinced myself I wouldn't try...and after watching the ladies pick bones out of their teeth, knew I wasn't missing out on much). I took a bite of the red salad and surprisingly, it was pretty good! I commented that I like the cabbage salad and took another bite (of a different looking piece of cabbage, but still covered in the same delicious red sauce) I examined it between my chopsticks while Mrs. Pa noticed my curiosity. Before I knew it, I was chewing said item and made eye contact with her in a way that didn't need a language "this tastes different than the cabbage" She immediately turned to Mrs. Koh and in Korean they spoke to each other about what I was chewing, and the best way to translate. My eyes gave it away and she started to explain what I was eating. I spoke around the long, stringy, chewy thing in my mouth and said, "don't. let me finish chewing it and then you can tell me." my eyes darted for a napkin and in true Korean style, didn't find a single one on our table or the one next to us. I thought that maybe I could make a run for the bathroom. If only I knew where the bathroom was. But then I decided to be brave. And thought how badly I wanted my terrible peanut butter and jelly from the past week. I swallowed hard. And winced as I asked, "what did I eat?" Mrs. Pa and Mrs. Koh agreed that the best translation was "dried squid". Oh. just dried SQUID.  I'm sure my eyes said it as I spoke, "I like the cabbage better". But hey, chalk one up for eating squid! wahooooooo.......actually, if I'm being truly honest, I thought I would hear the dreaded "octopus" when I finished chewing, so squid seemed ironically not as terrible. huh.

While I can not actually admit to remembering any students' names (except for Jin Hoh, who is lazy as can be and will actually request to stand in class so he doesn't fall asleep), I will say that I am treated like everyone's best friend. Last Wednesday was the "5th Annual Foreign Language Competition" and while there were quite a few languages making their appearance (Chinese, Russian, Japanese), they chose to start the competition with English, which I was a judge, along with Mrs. Pa and Mrs. Koh. We sat at the side of the gymnasium, which was a good 10 degrees warmer than outside. The 1st and 2nd graders (16 and 17 year olds) were all seated in the audience, all of my students, a total of 360+ students, and a few parents. The students presenting were behind us in the bleachers and were busy practicing their lines while introductions were made.

I was told earlier in the day that I was to introduce the English portion of the competition, and like most things, I have learned to just nod and go along with it. I didn't know what introducing the English part meant, but after seeing the huge assembly knew I had to get more details. When Mrs. Koh made sure I knew I was speaking, I asked what exactly I should speak about. She answered with the very vague, "tell them good luck and you are happy to hear their presentations"... Little did I know that I would be the introduction immediately following the Vice Principal and that I would have my own introduction-of course in Korean, which I didn't know what they were saying to illicit such a grand applause; before I knew it I was standing 6 feet above them on the stage with a microphone. I resisted the urge to chatter like a good Midwesterner and said simple (I think), "Hello" (followed by cheering that I relegate to be similar to that of a World Cup star...just sayin'...) and then, "I am hear your presentations...I have worked hard...Don't be nervous...Do your best...and have fun! Good luck!" I would be surprised if the crowd knew what I was saying, but after their raucous applause I felt like I needed to sign autographs. The competition followed with groups of 2-4 presenting on topics such as "Eminem's Life", "Skateboarding", "The Three Little Pigs" and a math game that had to do with the end result being an elephant (they scored the worst, in my book) I wish very terribly that I had brought my phone to take pictures or a video, and while I was very serious in my judging on pronunciation, memorization and expression, thoroughly enjoyed the competition.

I wish I could explain what a joy it is to me to teach these students the English language. I barely feel qualified, especially when I see the students working so hard to understand the correct grammar. It is the most humbling experience realizing that you speak the language that these students want and need, in their minds, to become successful in the world. I don't know where I get it, but every class period is a new burst of energy and a new dose of patience for those students who work themselves to the point of exhaustion.
(this student was like this as I returned from lunch...while some students fall asleep in class, I do not punish or embarrass them, as I know the pressure they feel with their grades and especially with finals coming up in a couple weeks)

This week we are planning the students' dream vacations and learning about asking permission. While I relegate myself to humiliation for the sake of them feeling relaxed, I will say that acting out being a tour guide or being a thief with the assumption that they don't understand the words I'm saying, only my actions, has made every class a bit more exciting and challenging.

1 comment:

Tera said...

I love hearing about all of your adventures. Sounds like you're doing a great job!