Er... so. It looks like I'll be flying into the UK in a week's time. What can I say? I'm unpredictable like that. It feels a bit stupid to be going there again, after I've been twice and spent nearly a month's time there already, and I don't even particularly care for the place, but it's been a long, long time since I've been around any of my old friends. Not "old" as in "replaced", but "old" as in "real". There are some people I need to see.
God bless my friends. They must get tired of me dropping in with such little notice. But they always have enough grace to pretend it doesn't matter.
It's going to be strange to be back in an English speaking country. Even when I was home in October, I would step up to the counter at a shop and stutter a bit before realizing I could just speak English. There was always a moment's hesitation before ordering in a restaurant, while I started to organize my thoughts into Korean, and then had to stop myself. At least it won't be like in Paris, where several times I had to stop myself, upon being spoken to in a foreign language, from responding in Korean. Language really fucks with your head.
Speaking of that, though, I had quite a heart-warming moment today, after lunch was cleared away in the office, when I saw that MJ Oppa had taped a note to the table before he left yesterday informing the other teachers that I was upstairs in the fourth floor office, that I was teaching until 12, and that they should invite me to have lunch with them. He ended the note with a small parenthetical, which was what really got me: "(우리말 잘 이해하십니다)". The other teachers saw me smiling at the sign and fluttered around about how I understood, and it must be true. So as for feeling forgotten, well you can forget that. MJ Oppa took care of that.
I'm having a great time with the camp boys, even though we have (as I predicted) been kicked out of the EOZ with no warning for construction again. We're just camping out in my office, which suits them fine, because a. it's a hell of a lot warmer and they can sit on the heaters and b. I brought in hot cocoa mix, so they spend the entire four hours on a sugar high, making a huge mess while they're at it. I'm quite proud of how I picked up all 9 names the very first hour -- it used to be quite a struggle for me to get them all down within the first couple of days. Camp is quite a different experience when I can understand the boys in Korean and they're aware of that. We feel more integrated more quickly, and they're much more comfortable around me from the very beginning. Which has resulted in a lot of instant "아 재미 없다! 선생님! 게임! 제발! Hangman! 영화!"
"No! Listen. Hangman and movies are boring. You think you want that. You don't. Trust me. I'm the teacher. After ten minutes of Hangman, ten minutes of a movie.... 아 재미 없다! 재미 없다!"
"Just be patient. Fifteen minutes, vocabulary. Then we will do something better. You have to learn the words first before we can do something. You know that. You trust me, right?"
"Yes but ah Teacher vocabulary very boring!"
"It's school. It's supposed to be boring."
My class smartass (every camp has one) and the leader of this discussion Chanyang thinks this over for a second and then nods to himself with his hand on his chin like a miniature wise old man: "Ahhh. School is supposed to be boring. 맞아요." He turns to the others, as if it has been they who have been stirring up the controversy, rather than him, and says, "야! 조용히해! School is supposed to be boring! Don't be childish!"
Even the vocabulary can get fun when we get into the more abstract stuff, because I can't just show them a picture while they write it down. I have to explain slowly and they have to listen carefully to guess the word I'm getting at, so it becomes like a game in and of itself. Even Chanyang gets right in there, on the edge of his seat. Yesterday, I was quite proud of us for sitting there and managing to translate over fifty words like "easygoing" so we could do an activity based around horoscope, which I had noticed had piqued their interest quite a bit when I mentioned it the day before, while we were working on "Do you believe in ______?"
At the time, we got off on a huge tangent with them all telling me their birthdays and asking me to tell them about their signs. So I designed a huge two hour lesson about it and, believe it or not, we managed nearly an hour's worth of conversation. At the end, I printed out each of their horoscopes for them in English and they clambered around to have me explain them. Another good thing about being in the office is having the printer right there for things like that.
The other Korean teachers remain completely mystified as to how it is I'm teaching these boys for four hours a day by myself with my minimal Korean abilities. They were grilling MJ Oppa about it yesterday, and when they came to get me for lunch, they were awed to find the boys still hanging around twenty minutes after camp had ended, explaining something to me using the small whiteboard in the office. The boys just don't have the hangups adults do about the language barrier. They start out shy and uncomfortable and nervous, but by the end of day one, we're all communicating just fine without any awkwardness whatsoever.
I have three boys this time around who are C level first graders and who were absolutely terrified to show up on the first day and find no sign of a Korean teacher safety net. But eventually I got the higher level boys to stop swatting and shouting at them for asking me questions in Korean, and after they got comfortable with that, they've started speaking English on a level I don't think anyone suspected was possible. I was worried at first, but they are getting along just fine.
I'll be sad to say goodbye tomorrow. I really wish it could always be like this.
Cha. This weekend is the musical in Seoul and Smalltown's return -- I can't believe it's already been three weeks. It flew by. Then a couple of half days teaching at another school and off to Glasgow for a couple of weeks. Summer vacation dragged by, but it feels like winter vacation is already almost gone, and it's just begun. Time flies, as the saying goes, I suppose. I just want it to start getting warm again soon. I've just about had it with this cold shit.