My Crazy Life in Korea

7 Apr

It is a quiet cool Sunday evening at English Village.  I recently returned from Seoul where I spent the day at the SGI Buddhism World Peace Chanting followed by a little lunch.  I also did some simple grocery shopping in Seoul at one of my favorite foreign food marts, High Street Market. I am now ready for a peaceful evening before beginning a new work week.

This past week I was thickly immersed in the life of teaching at English Village.  I transitioned off of a weekend shift to a regular Monday – Friday shift and just completed a “long haul” of working 8 days in a row.  We were brimming to the edges with Korean middle school students this past week.  We had one group of about two-hundred students for the first half of the week and a group of about 500 the second half.  Our job as English Village teachers is to ride the wave of the ebb and flow of students and do our best to be kind effective communicators and teachers while still offering a fun time.

Thursday night as I was walking a group of 76 student to the English Village Concert Hall, I couldn’t help but think what a crazy English Village Korean life I am leading right now.  My current “neighborhood” is no ordinary scene.  It is a “mock” English Village in South Korea constructed to host not only English-speaking teachers but students of all ages mostly from Korea, but also sometimes from Japan, Thailand, and Russia.  Who are my neighbors?  Mostly “20 somethings” from English-speaking countries around the world – South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and of course… the USA.  When English Village is in full bloom, it is not unexpected to see a flood of Korean faces, often middle school students, waking up the otherwise quiet streets.  There is likely to be giggling.

For students who participate in our regular weekly programs, the area I am currently working in, their journey begins at Immigration.  It can’t be missed.  When you arrive at English Village you are greeted by the unmistakable yet unexpected replica of Stonehenge.  The students enter through the doors of English Village Immigration and are immediately transported to a land in the midst of Korea where, for the most part, everyone speaks English.  They are met by sometimes enthusiastic sometimes weary English teachers holding their classroom number sign as we begin to organize, receive and make way for the hundreds of students arriving for their stay at English Village.

The journey regularly begins with enthusiastic conversation often from Korean girl students.  Teachers are met with bursts of English phrases that often include “How are you?  I am fine, thank you! ” followed by much laughing and giggling.  The very nature that I and other English-speaking teachers speak English is indeed entertaining and sometimes hilarious to the Korean students.  And so our journey begins.

I have spent my past week practicing being an enthusiastic, compassionate, firm and fun teacher in the throes of teaching hundreds of new Korean faces… some excited to be here, some not.  This balance of attributes is a new game for me as I find ways to keep order in the classrooms with many new faces while still being a fun and kind English-speaking face.  As English Village is an English-only experience, it is not always easy to communicate with our Korean students.  Some students are quite good English speakers and listeners while others are not.  It is not unusual to have a few strong English-speaking students in the class who can translate for other students when needed.  I do my best to simplify my language and clarify my expression in the easiest of terms.

It has been a busy and challenging week for me. I had to laugh Thursday night as I was in my room trying to relax and wind down from the day with some Reiki and yoga.  In the quietness of my room all I could hear were the voices in my own mind of the students calling out  “Teacher, Teacher” — my new name at English Village.

As Friday came to a close I found myself and my energy depleted.  I sat in the teacher “ready room”  about to collapse on my computer after a challenging morning of classes.  At that moment a teacher handed me a few thank-you post cards from students from the week.  After each session our students have the opportunity to write thank-you notes to teachers before leaving English Village.  Here is what  a few of mine said, “I liked you because you like sunshine. You’re kind. Thank you” and “I liked you because you like my mom, warm and you’re angel.”  Reading these words literally lifted my load from the week and had me thinking… maybe it wasn’t so bad…

It’s Sunday night and the new work-week will soon begin.  I’m doing my best to enjoy the extended winter, sort of like spring weather before the impending heat of summer arrives.  I have been at English Village now for almost 4 months.  It’s hard to believe!   I am grateful for the vigor and challenges here as I continue to grow as a person and teacher. But what I want most now is a little more R&R before Monday arrives as I prepare for a new week in my crazy life in Korea.

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