Working hard; playing hard.

Boy, am I ever running an odd schedule at the moment.

Kids, the camps are going beautifully so far, despite the fact that there's a surprise 12 year old in my "adult" class, which has demanded some serious restructuring. The little first graders are golden, still keen on the fact that these are their first hours with the foreign teacher, and therefore on their best behavior, excited about just about everything. The two second graders are two of my best from the nightmare after school class, who are finally getting to take a class with me that isn't a total drag due to their classmates. And the third graders... heh.

The third graders are both extremely high level English, and super fun basic English time with the babies is not what they signed up for. They didn't come to class today, and I have a feeling they won't be back. I explained the situation to them, and told them that if they wanted to come in anytime over the next three weeks when I'm not teaching, they're welcome to. "Man to man?" one asked, in response to this. I laughed. Yeah. Man to man.

Nonetheless, they did take down my phone number, which I gave to the small group of students on Monday, due to the fact that my winter camp was sabotaged by surprise demolition of the English Zone, so that the boys and I can remain in touch during the absence of any other English speaking or homeroom teachers at the school. The two third graders have been making good use of the number since I gave it, texting me about failing their hagwon exams, calling me on the bus to tell me that pancakes are delicious, and letting me know that they have a cold from sleeping with the fan on and can't sleep.

It still feels a bit odd to me, being American, to have such contact with students. Stateside, it's a big no-no. But it's quite normal for Korean students to have their homeroom teachers' numbers and make regular contact with them, for this or that reason, just to stay in touch. I wouldn't want it to become a school-wide phenomenon, just based on the frequency of texts and phone calls over the last two days, but it's not so bad with one or two high level students. I set up an email account specifically for the students to reach me at as well, which regularly receives short messages from the younger students saying things like, "Have happy day Teacher!" and the like. Sweet. And it's excellent practice for their English.

Mostly the classes have been a smash hit so far, but I've stayed on a very basic level for the first couple of days, while I gauge their abilities. They seem quite advanced, the group I'm dealing with, so tomorrow we're taking it up a notch. Also working on a short book/newsletter thing to send home at the end with photos of the student activities and the work they've been doing.

Today the pancakes came out disastrously salty, due to the combination of an overly eager salt pourer, a possibly bad recipe, and the fact that most Korean bread-type stuff is much sweeter than what Westerners think of in the same case, meaning the boys expected the pancakes to be like actual cake, rather than the sort of buttery food stuff they actually are. Their reactions were so priceless that I had to capture them in documented form, so I tacked on a last minute activity where they were to write a short paragraph about the experience and illustrate it. Those will be put up here soon. Some of the most expressive spontaneous usage of English I've seen thus far. They all complained about how they needed to go home and eat kimchi afterward, to soothe their stomachs. Still, the pancakes disappeared rather quickly....

In other news, last night, despite being exhausted from the first day of camps, followed immediately by Korean class, I came back to my neighborhood and let C talk me into meeting him and J for chicken and beer at a plastic table on the sidewalk outside a restaurant down in his quarters. He and J picked me up at the station in J's car, and after we ate, I was easily convinced (despite the hour nearing 11) to take a walk beside the river. C ducked into a convenience store and bought three foreign beers which required a bottle opener, which none of us had. He then morphed into a total man and started banging the bottles on just about any hard object he came across, convinced he could open them with sheer force alone. The result was him covering himself in spewed beer, and us getting to enjoy only half of what he had paid for. The scene was a source of great amusement for many passing high school students.

Gotta give C credit, where it's due -- being with him is never boring. In fact, in many ways, it's the most comfortable and at home I've felt since I've been in Korea. Walking along the river as a light rain started to fall, having a passionate debate about whether or not fish were living in the toxic puddles of water that remained. Discussing religion vs. God, how I believe in one, but not the other, and being truly open, more and more. How I don't think God hates anything he created, including gays, including alcohol, including sex.... that God gave us life to live and to enjoy, so long as we are not hurting ourselves or other people.

Tomorrow, two or three or four (or six) people will be joining me in my apartment to make pancakes, obviously using a salt-altered version of today's recipes, since I already have all the ingredients. American style -- let's all mix our genders in a single girl's apartment together, like we're grownups. I like it.

In other news, a lovely person by the name of Soonbong Kwon has contacted me to ask me to write for his website, nowseoul.com. It's a website catering to foreigners that offers all kinds of information in English that seems to be useful to both tourists and expats alike. Lately, there have been a few different people (Koreans) popping up with these kinds of efforts. It's sorely needed in Korea, and greatly appreciated by foreigners, who like to complain nonstop about how un-foreigner-friendly the ROK can be at times. It seems that there is great hope on the horizon for the ROK in this regard, as the younger generation becomes more and more interested to opening their nation up to outsiders, and embracing them and making them feel as safe, welcomed and comfortable as possible. Those of us who spend even a little time here should, in my opinion, do what we can to help on the foreigner side of these efforts, including adding our perspective and making our issues known, so that the ROK can become a more integrated country overall. This is particularly crucial if you, like me, are committed to a reasonably long stay in the ROK.

And now it's past midnight, and I've got a ton to do before the guys show up tomorrow night. This week has the potential to run me into the ground -- I haven't been this exhausted since finals at university. But I'm trying to keep a nice balance between work and social activities, despite the extra cost to my sleep schedule, and, as always, there is the sheer fantasticness of my students to keep everything in balance. They are worth working hard for.

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