This post comes from Mark Salas, my orientation roommate and good friend. Mark and I had a great time getting to know each other at Jeonju. Mark was assigned to Ulsan, a coastal town east of Daegu. Please take some time to check out Mark’s blog. He is a skilled photographer and his blog is full of excellent photos.
Learn How to Say it First
If there’s anything I’ve learned within the first two weeks of teaching Korean kids it’s, make sure you know how to correctly say something in Korean before you try it out in front of the class.
On the first meeting with my principal I had a whole introduction prepared in Korean. That first impression went so well and now it’s blatantly obvious that he’s in love with me (partly because I’m so quick to take on volleyball, too). I had to do the same introduction in front of all the other teachers a few days later. Same reaction. I got a lot of “OoOoOoooo’s” and “Aaaaaaahhhhh’s.” Afterwards many of my co-teachers even came up to ask me how I learned to speak Korean so well. This is where I probably went wrong. I took these compliments as legitimate words of truth when really they were just being nice. They realized that I was really trying to be accepted and in their eyes it probably went like, “this foreigner is so cute for trying, you have to love him.”
First day of classes. I’m so nervous. I have my introduction down and I’m ready to spit it out. Like before, the children ate it up. I had it practiced so well that at this point I probably did nail it ok. It was the second day that I lost the respect of some of my students. The teacher has this attention getter phrase, which in English is, “4th Grade!” The students are supposed to respond with their class number and clap three times. Of course, she says this in Korean and since every one of my co-teachers use this method I figure I should be using it too. When the children are acting up and not listening I yell out something like, “wha yeon!” (it should mean 4th grade, but sounds kinda stupid coming from me) and every single student is cracking up and no attention was grabbed. I started laughing too, because it was actually kind of funny sounding. Even my co-teacher was cracking up a little bit. I thought that was the end of it.
Every day SINCE the second day of school, that particular 4th grade class has been making fun of me, and my Korean ignorance keeps me from realizing when they’re doing it. Two days ago, a few of the boys in the class were throwing up silly gang signs saying “wha yeon!” I smile and laugh, oblivious to the fact that they were mocking what I had said a week and a half ago. It was after my co-teacher turned into “dragon lady” (as she put it), and all the students went dead silent, that I realized they had done something wrong. She put some in corners of the room and it was a very uncomfortable class to be in.
Afterwards we explained everything to the homeroom teacher in charge of that class and she was soooo very sorry for me. I took no offense at all. Children are going to act up and it was a lesson I learned from. Anyways, I got the last laugh because that teacher made each and every student write an apology letter to me =). Today while I was enjoying coffee after lunch I turn around and the whole class is waiting in my office with the saddest cutest faces. They each handed me their letters one by one, saying their obviously scripted, “I’m so sorry mark Teacher”s. It really made my day and that’s how I learned to make sure I know how to correctly say something in Korean before I try it out in front of the class.
-Mark Salas (Ulsan, South Korea)