Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh Hey, A Life Changing Concert, Booger Swapping, New Directions

Oh hey, November. Where did you come from? The thing I dreaded most about my return trip to life as Peter Teacher was the really horrendous Korean summer. I am sure there are a lot of people out there who have experienced summers way worse than one will find in Korea, and to these people, I must now politely say I have little to no interest in hearing your opinions. I hate summer here. The bugs, the heat, the ten minute walk to work that leaves you drenched in sweat as you jump around trying to entertain large groups of children who come from a race of people who don't sweat, and therefore don't understand your pit stains the size of a Dakota. Not fun. I guess I spent so much time mentally preparing myself for the upcoming summer, that I didn't really notice that it came, was not that bad, and passed. And here we are. November. And with each passing day, I find myself working steadily towards the half way mark of my second year in Korea, which is now less than three weeks away.

When we last spoke, I was spending a large portion of my mornings working with a group of kindergarten students, aged 3-6, who, on a daily basis, brought a smile to my face and demanded, on an average per student basis, 87 in the air high fives. In early August, we began preparing for the annual kindergarten concert extravaganza. This event brings students' families together to listen to classic English numbers performed by toddlers who don't speak English. Adorable.

Days before the event, I made a comment to one of the Korean teachers, who seemed unusually stressed, about how well the students were doing. And to be honest, they weren't doing that well. The line "What is Sally wearing today? Shoes, socks, pants and a blouse," at best, sounded like, "What sorry wearing day? Shocks, shocks, pans and brouse." As the most fluent English speaker in the room, I of course understood that little Sarah was butchering this song, but my comment about how well she was doing was me working under the assumption that it was a universal understanding that a little kid singing a song is cute. I mean, how can one really expect a person to master a song in another language when said child has yet to learn how to use a toilet? The Korean teacher's reply was something along the lines of, "Are you insane!?" She explained to me that Korean parents do not work under the same, 'my child is adorable' mindset that parents of kindergartners do in the West. She said that this concert is kind of a test for the school, and that parents expect their children to be flawless in their renditions of "What is Sally Wearing Today?" I didn't take this concern too seriously, not realizing how serious it actually was.

The day of the concert came, the children performed, butchered it as usual, and once again, I thought they did an excellent job. I was wrong. Boy was I wrong. Two weeks later our little kindergarten closed. The Korean teacher, the same one who weeks before, with panic stricken eyes, told me that the kids weren't good enough, was forced to say goodbye to a job she had held for 8 years, the same amount of time that our kindergarten had been open.

Korea, a country of limited natural resources, considers their children to be their greatest resource. This mindset, though in some ways is maybe really sweet way to value your kids, places a huge amount of pressure on students. This is something I have noticed since arriving in Korea nearly two years ago, but I never thought the expectations extended all the way to kids this young. And while I would like to say that I am very open minded to all cultural differences, I can't help but question this practice and mindset. I love Korea, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity given to me and thousands of other Westerners to come here and help educate their natural resources, but I can't help but feeling sorry for these kids who are stuck in an educational system that all but robs them of a childhood.

Fast forward to today, I am still happily employed, my academy, though once heavily supported by Kindergarten tuition fees, still hosts around 200 elementary and middle school aged students. My schedule is much more like it was last year, I begin my day at 2 and finish around 7 or 8. I love my kids and couldn't be happier with my boss and the environment of the school. And I even got to hang on to two of my favorite Kindergarteners. David and Rosy, who you may remember as happy couple #1 from July's Kindergarten wedding, still attend the school an hour a day for private lessons. This means I get to spend a lot of time with two of my favorite people under the age of 5. We do really fun educational things such as shuffling around the room making peace signs and pretending to be lobsters (I don't really see the connection either, but David gets it, and that is the most important thing). David* has even started calling me father. We have also had lots of fun bonding moments like that time I made him pee a little bit when I popped out from behind a table on Halloween dressed as Shrek, and that time I watched, in what felt like slow motion, as he picked a giant little something from his nose, extended his hand, and then stuck said something in my own nose. As scarring as this may be, if I had to choose a single person in the world to put their own booger in my nose, it would be David, hands down.

What else is there to say? Life really hasn't changed that much. When I am not saying "Listen and repeat, 'film!' 'pillim!' 'No, FFFFFilm' 'pillim!' 'FFFFFIllllllmmmmmm!' 'PILLIM!' 'good job guys! moving on!'," I spend my time watching every reality show with 'New Jersey' in the title, hanging out with my few, but high quality friends, and talking about how we really need to buckle down and start saving money. I miss blogging, I miss talking about my life in Korea, but the more time passes, the more this place begins to feel like home. The things that stood once out as being really crazy culture shocks are now, at most, small differences in day to day life in a home that is surprisingly comfortable and welcoming. I miss my friends and family (who will be visiting in less than two months!) an insane amount, but I am not quite ready to say goodbye to this great little country. It really scares me how fast this six months has passed, and I am yet prepared to let go of my life here and strap on a name tag as one of the countless, unemployed twenty somethings in the United states. The American job market is not one I feel a strong desire to claw my way into, and I am having a hard time justifying leaving a well paying job that I love just because it is in a country that doesn't match my passport. I have decided to extend my contract for an indefinite amount of time, with an end goal of being home for Christmas in 2012.

In closing, I must admit that my comfort in Korea has made writing in a Korean Culture Shock themed blog harder than it was in the past, but I have realized that I still have a lot to say. I am working on a concept for a new online magazine/online community with a great friend from college, a project which I will keep you updated on in future posts. Love to you all, even those who I have never met, and I wish you all the best.

Until Next Time,
Which Will Hopefully Be Sooner Than It Was Last Time,
Ohhhh Time,

Peter Teacher

* Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly introduce you to David, as he wishes my brother a happy birthday...