Teacher’s Day Song ^^
The first years at their musical competition. Don’t let their angel voices fool you ;) haha just kidding. They were so good!
On Tuesday morning I had an open class where parents and teachers came to observe me teach. Before the class, I was prepping in my classroom when I looked up to see a Korean parent peeking in. I motioned that it was okay to come in and he started asking me some questions in Korean. At the conclusion of our short interview, he said in Korean, “You would be even prettier if you spoke more Korean.”
While I smiled and laughed, knowing he intended to compliment rather than insult, I desperately wanted to point to the sign above our heads reading “Speak English.” I was perturbed, annoyed at the irony and ill-timing of his innocent comment. How could he come into my classroom dedicated to the learning of English and then tell me that my Korean wasn’t sufficient? His taxes pay me to speak English. In my inner thoughts, I wanted to ask him how his daughter would do on her test if I only spoke to her in Korean. I wanted to tell him he could criticize my Korean all he wanted to in my home-stay or out in the town, but how could he bring that up in my education zone and in my workplace where speaking English is critical. As a judge, I itched to exclaim: “Irrelevant!”
Last week, prior to his ill-placed comment, I came across two separate blog entries. One was from a foreigner ranting about the Korean expectation for her to learn Korean and the other was from a foreigner apologizing for not learning enough Korean. The parent’s comment brought these two blogs to mind and made me stop and think about my own viewpoint.
As natives of whatever country we live in, it’s a natural human expectation that others around you will speak the national language or at least try to learn the language in order to communicate. It’s rational and I believe, justifiable. However, at the same time, I also now understand the foreign-outsider perspective.
I didn’t come to Korea to become fluent in Korean. I also didn’t come to stay forever. I mostly came to teach English and to learn about the culture for one year. Initially, I planned on learning the language (and I’m not a total failure in that department, especially when you consider I learned the Korean alphabet a week before leaving for Korea). When I got to my placement, my priorities shifted. Learning Korean got pushed down on the ladder of importance. I learned the Korean I needed to know in order to communicate enough and while it would have been wonderful to finish my grant year with a higher Korean level, there just hasn’t been the time. My day is spent from 8-5 as the resident English speaker. I come home and engage in a Korean/English mix with my home stay, and then after dinner, it’s time for a few hours of much needed personal time/misc. preparation before I go to bed.
I could have dedicated more time to Korean, yes. But things would have gotten pushed out of the equation in return. The weekly coffee chats (aka debriefs) with friends. The dinners “off campus” with students. The calls back home sharing my experiences here. The cakes I baked for my host family. The places I’ve discovered or gone to in my wanderings. The friendships I’ve built. The progress I’ve seen in my students. The sleep I needed.
It’s easy to ask, “Well, surely, learning Korean would have helped you build better relationships with people and helped your students learn more English, right?”
Maybe. Maybe not. Had I been in a different town, possibly. Sometimes, having a direct and readily accessible Korean translation would have made teaching easier or saved time in clearing misunderstandings. But I don’t consider the time lost as a waste. We overcome because we struggle.
As an educator and cultural ambassador, I see the struggle as a successful and useful teaching tool. In speaking almost completely in English to my students, I’m not only teaching them English but teaching them how to communicate when language fails them. I’m teaching them that it’s a wonderful thing to reach beyond your comfort zone and just try. I’m teaching myself those things, too.
Similarly, speaking more Korean would have helped me to more quickly build deeper relationships or jump into cultural discussion with my Korean friends and students. But relationships aren’t quick. Here, I’m teaching my students that there are more things than a common language that can bring people together, and that it isn’t impossible to be friends with a person of another culture. Friendship does not just belong to those who share the bond of spoken words. Additionally, I am a constant, daily reminder that different people exist, and a natural check on creeping cultural superiority. My own included.
On the cultural level, in some respects not having strong Korean skills has helped me to learn more about the culture. There is extra care to explain things to me and my students proudly introduce me to things they think I must not know because I don’t speak the language well.
I do agree that while some responsibility falls on the host country, it lies on my lap as the foreigner to cross cultural and language barriers-part of being a good guest. Life would probably be easier if I spoke more of the language. If I was planning on staying for a longer time, my reasons for not taking a more serious and earnest approach in learning the language would falter. What I don’t agree with though, is feeling like I should apologize for doing my job or for being foreign.
So, I’m sorry for not speaking more Korean, but then again, I’m also not sorry.
Yeongcheon Boys’ High School choir
My girls competed in a choir competition this past weekend, and I had a blast watching all the performances. haha this was a crowd favorite with the personalities really coming out in the latter half! My students told me that the song is from a popular animation.
“Silk”: Attempting the Korean Perm
The last time I had a perm, my mom was my stylist and I was in the second grade, sitting in our family room. I still remember fidgeting, watching a movie as we waited for the fizzy curls to emerge.
When Americans think of perms, they think of the 80s (as my brother so mentioned when I told him I was getting one). However, here in Korea, it’s the status quo. Every female in Korea does it or has done it or will do it. Even males get their hair permed…it’s just a cultural “do.” So I made up my mind to do it too.
I learned a valuable lesson out the fun experience; my hair just doesn’t perm haha. I spent 4 hours in a downtown Daegu reputable salon and spent quite a bit of money and this is what I got; see photo above. (I’m a bit embarrassed/ashamed at how much money it cost, so we will just skip that little disclosure…especially after my last post on fashion frugality).
It was a fun (and very Korean) experience though. I went alone, armed with the words “digital perm” and a few photos of what I was looking for. The stylists were extremely sweet and funny, and together we gestured our way through the process. We were quite the merry crew.
I had a miniature heart attack when the lady typed out the price (she had accidentally added some zeros) and we both had a good laugh over my incompetent Korean. For a good part of the process, I looked like Medusa with my hair all curled up in the digital perm machine (a good look let me tell you). But the funniest part of it was “I’m sexy guy,” (as he referred to himself).
While another woman was working on my hair most of the time, “I’m sexy guy” kept offering to help her. She finally relented, allowing him to wash my hair and put some of the goopy perm stuff in it.
“Sexy guy” took a liking to me, and was REALLY happy we were the same age, but was just as quickly crushed when I told him I had a boyfriend. So he settled for being “Korean family” and commanded I tell him a funny story about my students. Ummm… for those of you that don’t know, I’m only funny when I’m not trying to be. Not to mention he hardly understands English and I speak minimal Korean. But I tried…and he ACTUALLY laughed, then demanded another one. He did a pretty good job at pretending to find me funny, but after the first one, I decided it was in my ego’s best interest to pretend I couldn’t remember any more stories. Best of luck sexy guy!
At the end of process, when I was sat down in front of a mirror to see the final result, both me and the hairstylist just kind of laughed nervously at the LACK of curls on my head. She shot off some rapid-fire Korean that I just looked confused about before twisting my hair and saying, “….silk.”
So dear fellow expats and people who have thin, silky hair like mine…unless you’re looking for a boyfriend, an interesting 4-hour wait, or want the barely-there perm, just skip the perm and stick to the curling iron! :)
I’ll never get used to watching my host dad power through multiple raw garlic cloves.
On the other hand, I just learned that fresh bamboo is delicious. Who knew!
So this will probably be my one and only post about fashion…but the time has come.
My boyfriend recently teased me (all in good-nature) about my consistent casual style: he noted that I never wear shorts and hardly wear skirts or dresses. I hotly protested until I realized, ya- he’s right. I rarely depart from my skinny jeans and Sperry’s look. They always say admittance is the first step to recovery, right?
Part of my “style” here has to do with culture: showing my shoulders is considered scandalous and since I already am a curiosity to stare at, I try not to add anything else to the mix (i.e. long legs). This week I decided to change it up and throw some skirts on; it got me thinking about my fashion style in general…
Dream School student project:
“Instead of uniform, I want American style!”
“What’s American style?”
(Points to me): “Jeans.”
Dinner with Elizabeth in my town:
“Oh wait, Elizabeth we are wearing the same sweatshirt. (Our Pepperdine senior sweatshirt). I’m going to take mine off…if my students see me, they’ll make fun of me.”
Coteacher and student interactions today:
“Oh Lisa! You are wearing a skirt today! You look so nice! Why?”
“Ohhhh teacher, fashion today…GOOD!”
“Oh, Lisa! Legs, so thin. I envy!”
Even the sweet special education students pointed out my switch in style. Shoot, maybe I should wear skirts more often…
I highly favor practicality and comfort over cuteness. I’m simplistic when it comes to fashion. I don’t like paying more than 20 or 30 bucks for a piece of clothing. Give me neutral solids any day. Jewelry is great, but I’m usually rushing in the morning and showering is more important than switching earrings. So I stick to the same earrings, rings, and necklace that I wear every day. My favorite article of clothing is an oversized mint sweatshirt with a coffee stain on the sleeve. I like loose, oversized shirts paired with skinny, stretchy jeans and comfy Sperry topsiders.
My reasoning? Maybe students will be playing dodgeball today, or maybe I’ll decide to walk down by the river, or who knows, maybe it will be super windy this afternoon. Perfect for jeans. Or worse, it could become terribly muggy and that cute fitted shirt will just expose how much I’m sweating. Not Cute.
Confession, my students often dress cuter than me outside of school. They all look like the latest Kpop star and I look like…a teacher responsible for 400+ high school girls. Not to mention one who forgets that her boyfriend notices her style even when he is deployed. ^^
I had grand dreams to find myself a Korean Onni (older sister) this year who would make over my style like some Princess Diaries remake. After all, Korean fashion rocks. Forget about the 6 inch heels my co-teacher showed up to school in. Ridiculous. If you can’t walk in them, you probably shouldn’t wear them. However, I love the flowing skirts, fitted jackets, mini dresses, and boots. I love the mix of classic, edgy, and cutesy you see on any given day.
I consider myself lucky that wearing jeans at my school is completely acceptable. Obviously, I didn’t get made over, but there’s been some small changes. I now have THREE pairs of earrings I switch off wearing. And I love my fitted Korean black blazer jacket I got for my birthday. I’m not a total lost cause, Korea…I promise.
Just consider it my rebellion to the prevailing obsession over the importance of outer beauty…