Friday, February 21, 2014

"Do you feel the cold?"

NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast first perked my ears up to seeing Disney's animated film Frozen. By the time my sister posted the YouTube video of  "Let It Go" on my facebook timeline, I knew it was my destiny to see it. Desk-warming* in the middle of winter vacation in a foreign country, I quite literally related to the lyrics of the song. Kingdom of isolation, freezing cold, but I like the cold -- come on.

*Desk-warming: No classes and no students but required to come to school to "work" for eight hours a day, forty hours a week. It gets lonely and cold in the winter (the school turns off the heat).

So I was right there with my students when their excitement turned obsession turned adoration for the film - for the song "Let It Go" in particular - became part of every day conversation. I lost count of how many screen shots of Anna, Elsa, and Olaf I saw, how many renditions of "Let It Go" I heard in the hallways, and how many times the fifth grade boys imitated Elsa slamming her foot down, because I was lost in the fandom, too. I was just as ecstatic as my students when Moonee put the movie in for the last day of class. I still haven't seen the last half of the movie, but I have seen what it has done to Korea.

It's amazing to me what an impact it has had here. One of my favorite stories from the native English teacher group of "Frozen stories" is one that involves "Do you want to build a snowman?" being written in huge letters spanning across the board of the teacher's room. And "It doesn't have to be a snowman," written beneath it. It's a strange phenomenon, one I've talked plenty about with other teachers. The language is easy to say and the meaning straight forward. The conversation never quite hits the right note for me, however, and I've felt too much that my thoughts about it would be lost.

My thoughts: this song, "Let It Go," has done exactly what ideally my school wants me to do with the English language. It has made English fun. Sure, "let it go" might not be the most useful English phrase, but the students all know it and know what it means. They're expressing a feeling and a hope when they sing those words. They're imagining something when they hear, listen to, and sing along with the music. They are experiencing and relating to another language, a huge accomplishment they've done completely on their own.

That's why Korea hires native-speaking English teachers. Language is about communication but it is also about expression. There are intricacies in every language that captures the human spirit in ever so slightly a different way. Personally, I have my doubts about whether my presence or teaching can come close to touching that, but I do believe that, in its shiny Disney package, Frozen has brought a small part of that joy to Korea. 

That's why I haven't gotten "sick of" or "annoyed at" hearing the songs from Frozen. The premise is simply too delightful to me. Film is a powerful thing and people too often forget the role it can play. It's sometimes as simple as making pancakes for breakfast after watching America's favorite serial killer make them for his kids. Other times it causes people on opposite ends of the world to sing the same song, it seems, in perfect unison. 

"Do you feel the cold?" Moonee asked me one day. My boasting about Wisconsin winters seems to have given the Doam teachers an impression about me. I realize in talking with my parents that maybe that's not such a far-fetched question after all, because "cold" is relative. The fascination with Frozen in Korea is relative to what the filmmakers and animators perhaps wanted for this movie. It is relative to American and global reception. And isn't that the beauty. "Yes, I feel the cold," I told her.

I was cleaning up my classroom after a day of winter camp, jamming out to some Miley Cyrus Internet radio, when I heard the English door open. In comes a woman and her little daughter. The little girl was maybe two years old and she walks right up to me and asks,"How are you?" I was shocked. The mother clearly didn't know any English, but I knelt down and said, "I'm good, how are you?" She laughed, grabbed my hand and said, "Let's go together!" She starts walking towards the door, tugging me along. I say, "Oh I have to clean up." She looks at me and starts bounding around the classroom repeating, "Let's go together! Let's go together!" 

Soon they said goodbye and left. I felt flabbergasted; what exactly happened here? I was touched by the random visit in a way that made me laugh. She spoke English to me. She knew not only what she was saying but how to say it. She understood the etiquette. I sort of let my thoughts about how she learned it float up into the air, because it's obvious she wasn't hitting English language books, studying for hours on end. She was only maybe two years old. 

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