Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happy Chuseok, or Thanksgiving, Weekend!

I already have my first day of school under my belt and am enjoying a five-day weekend. The three-day holiday Chuseok, or Harvest Moon Festival, is comparable to American Thanksgiving. The Koreans honor their ancestors and I read, eat crescent-shaped rice cakes. My co-teacher Moonee wished me a happy Thanksgiving weekend as she headed off to Seoul. I hope to get a chance to ask her more about her Chuseok holiday next week, but we have a very busy next few days at school.

I felt good about my first day of school. Moonee picked me up from my apartment and orientated me a bit, showing me the bus stop I will normally take to school and where I can buy my basic groceries. My school Doam Elementary is a rural school with about 220 students. The building itself is really beautiful -- lots of surrounding trees, open air, and color. There was a group of kids playing soccer on the big, dirt playground (the favorite sport Moonee tells me), which leads to the main entrance of the school. Right at the entrance are the shoe lockers where we changed into our "indoor shoes." Koreans traditionally (and modernly) do a lot of activites on the floor, including sleeping and eating. It is a respectful and logical way.

My classroom is right across the hall from the music room, which I think is just fantastic. I enjoyed some enthusiastic and loud singing throughout my first day. Moonee and I each have our own desks and our classroom is equipped with the biggest touch screen TV I have ever seen (I'm bringing my measuring tape next week) and a really neat "virtual studio." I didn't have time to ask Moonee about the virtual studio, but I assume it's some sort of green room the kids can perform in.

I sort of co-taught but more observed one fourth grade class and two sixth grade classes. The energy and welcoming was really amazing -- I'm excited and also a little intimidated to teach. Moonee assured me I just need to be active and loud to succeed. The President of the school is all about English; she really believes in the kids learning English and feels having a a native English-speaking teacher is key to the kids' success in learning it.

My meeting with the President, Vice President, and Head Teacher of the school was so nice. The President doesn't speak much English but she prepared a short welcoming speech that her son wrote for her. She told me how glad she was to have me here and that her sister works in North Carolina. Moonee told me that her son also works in the States as an English teacher. It was really sweet and succeeded on the welcoming front. I think teaching at Doam Elementary will be an extremely positive experience.

Lunch happens around noon. The teachers and students eat in the same cafeteria, which is in a seperate building from the classrooms. My metal lunch tray was heavily piled with rice with specks of beans, kimchi, a cold noodle-vegetable combo, hot soup, and some sort of brown-sauced protein dish. Eat your kinchi, eat your kimchi. That's what was engrained in my head in my weeks of preparation for Korea. This is one front I know I failed. I tried and wanted to, but my stomach has been upset since before I left for Korea. I thought it was nerves, but I dunno -- it's a little bug I think because even the food I brought with me doesn't swallow well. I made the decision not to throw up and just be judged for not eating my kimchi. I felt like that would be the least disrespectful of the two options. My plan is to force eat these next five days and get my stomach back in order. 

After scooping my uneaten food into my soup bowl and emptying it into the trash can, Monee and I returned to our clasroom where we went over some things for next week.Next week, on Tuesday, my third day of school, we will be having open class. For open class, the President of our school and teachers from ten different schools will come and observe our classes. Bam! Let's do this teaching thing. I'm not too nervous, because it is the perfect opportunity to do and show off what I came here to do: teach. And my time at Creative Learning Preschool has given me the confidence to know it's going to be okay. We teach from a book and I observed first-hand how Moonee teaches and what the students are used to doing.

Moonee and I were about to leave for the market when she said that there was a snack in the teacher's room, or teacher's lounge. First of all, cool. I got to (and get to) go into the teacher's room, a fantasy since my grade school days where I only got a peek into Joy Elementary's teacher lounge. I belong in the teacher's room. There were grapes that reminded me of the grapes growing on the vines in my backyard back in Wisconsin and plates full of mostly Korean rice cakes. There was also a rice-water drink. Sweet and refreshing. I then gave a little impromptu speech about my first day for all the staff. I said how happy I was to be here and that the kids were very energetic and asked how old I was and if I had a husband or boyfriend. To their (and my?) dismay, nope. No boyfriend. No husband either. I did tell them I have a dog named Bodger.

Overall, this is doable. My biggest culture shock so far has got to be the feelings of homesickness. The near-disastrous bus ride home felt normal (I've made a huge mistake) and the language barrier just covers my normal social awkwardness. In fact, I feel that I can communicate better here in Korea in the sense that they know I'm a foreigner. I don't worry so much about what I need to say -- I just take it all in. But I miss home in a way that surprised me. It's not that I wish I were home but that I had to say goodbye. Which is probably why I need to embrace my band roots of, "We never say goodbye, but see you real soon." Once I can get my internet working and I can finally skype with them, I think I can stop feeling so sad about saying goodbye. Like the Dinos, I'll be able to see that they are doing great, living life, and that I need to do the same.

So, Happy Chuseok, all!! I am thankful for all the support and well wishes from home. I am thankful for Moonee and all the teachers at Doam Elementary. I am thankful for this opportunity to speak loudly and be an English teacher. I am thankful that I was raised to work hard and that I learned that it's okay to play hard, too. "Fake it til you make it." "Shooting live." I am thankful for all my work experience that taught me small philosophies to live by to make it work.

Much love from Icheon, South Korea <3

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