Tonight I started my volunteer "work" at a small (small, small, small) community study center a few neighborhoods away. Seven middle school boys, plus a bonus high schooler, including (get this) TWO! TWO! sets of twins. What are the odds? They're pretty rough and tumble, and the woman who runs the center (who doesn't speak much English at all) was worried that I wouldn't be able to handle them -- she was worried that, because I don't speak much Korean, they would be able to tease me or talk dirty straight to my face without me knowing. I told her that after a year of working at an all boys middle school, my most fluent Korean is exactly the kind that would prevent them from doing that, if they even got up the nerve to try, which, judging by how completely shy they were at first tonight, I don't think they would.
We had a two hour session tonight, and it took a little poking and prodding at first, and there was lots of stressing out over giving answers, but I eventually convinced them that I wasn't going to string them up by their toenails for making mistakes when speaking English. It helped that it didn't take long for them to realize that if they said something slowly and simply enough in Korean, I was usually able to understand. I was able to get a pretty good handle on their individual personalities.
In addition to the woman running the establishment, and two older women who prepare the meals for the boys, there is one male English teacher who was more nervous than the students were about talking to me. I've never had a more awkward greeting with someone ever in my entire life. At first when he came in, I stood and bowed and greeted him in Korean. He did the same and then just kind of stood there gawking, so I felt the need to do something else. So I greeted him and introduced myself again in English and shook his hand, making sure to keep my other hand under my elbow. That seemed to placate him somewhat. He sat in on the session, and I get the feeling that I'm essentially replacing him to some extent, or that we will be working together with the boys -- I'm not entirely sure. As it was, he translated a bit when needed (which wasn't often) and mostly just teased the boys a bit in Korean about their answers to my questions.
At first things were a bit tense, until I just said, "You guys are so shy..." and moved my fists back and forth in front of my face in the Korean gesture for shy. They laughed and I said, "You know what? I'm shy too. I'm very nervous to meet you." Hand fluttering over my heart to demonstrate. "We will be shy for a little bit of time, but soon we will be like family. Right?"
I'm so grateful for this opportunity to get to know these boys. It's exactly the kind of setting I wish I could teach in all the time. And, after having to let my after school class boys go, I'm glad to have a new group of students who I can get to know really well. I think I've already got the twins sussed, and I know which one in each set is 형. The high school boy has shockingly good English, but is a bit of an oddball. The other English teacher is going to take some getting used to, but overall I think the situation is exactly the one I'm supposed to be in. The entire ordeal leading up to this seemed to be brought about by fate. And I have a feeling my Korean is going to improve a lot.
But now I'm tired. Six class Mondays followed by a two hour conversation session with middle school boys is no joke. It's definitely bedtime. The whole rest of my week is nearly fully booked already. I can't wait for the holidays and vacation. I need a little bit of rest.