Saturday, May 9, 2009

Who wants some cake?

Yesterday was a genuinely exhausting day, to the point where--despite a full night's sleep--I had to come home and take a nap after Korean class today. Imagine, if you will, 16 4- and 5-year-olds. For all sakes and purposes, you could consider this a child's birthday party. Now, in your imagination, add seventeen sponge cakes, four bowls of pink and white frosting, and endless decorations and you have a recipe for good ol' fashioned, destruction-induced fun. With pink frosting on one leg, and white frosting on the other from the knee-high counters, I can deduce that despite 3 of us taking 30 minutes to clean up the disaster, it was a success. No one cried. Everyone liked their cake. And we all got on a massive sugar high.

The frosting brought back memories from Monday night--memories I forgot to chronicle here. At around 1:30 in the morning, after massive amounts of alcohol, Chris commented that he'd really like to see someone's face shoved into one of my birthday cakes on the coffee table. Before I even realized what was happening, Arthur smashed the cake into Chris's face. Oh. my. God! Soon it was returned, smashed into Arthur's face! I was completely sober, but so tired, I realized too late that Chris had started balling up the remaining amounts of cake and started passing it back and forth between his hands. All of the girls went screaming out of the apartment at that point. I thought I was going to be clever and run into the elevator, not realizing Arthur would follow and tackle me into it. I tried to get out on the right floor, but it had already started moving. We went down to the first floor, looking rather sheepishly at the older Korean gentleman who got on with a disdainful look--he probably wasn't impressed with the frosting smeared across the door. ... I still have frosting on my pants, even after going through the wash.

This week, I have been suffering from a plague. A plague I like to call my EPIK application. EPIK is the Korean government's program to bring foreigners into public schools for the purpose of teaching English. The application is pretty long, and ... invasive (they ask for your weight!), but it was no problem. I got through 7 of the 8 pages. Unfortunately, one of these was, "write a personal essay of 300 words or more." There was no guiding question, just "personal essay." Today, after the 3-hour nap, I woke up, realized it had to be done, and here it is, 588 words, submitted for your approval.

One of the first things I noticed about Korea is the abundance of pink and heart. There are heart stickers, hearts on T-shirts, heart-shaped pencils, and people continually make hearts with their arms and hands. As I learn more about the culture, I understand most of the songs are about love, and that there are essentially two Valentine’s Day—one for girls, and then one for boys! Over the last year, I have developed three of my own loves: languages, children, and travel.

Since my father brought me a copy of Aschenputtel, the German Cinderella, I have loved foreign languages. As I started high school, I began learning German and can remember my teacher unfolding this new world of grammar for me, teaching me as much about English as she did German. She made learning fun, and I went on to study French, Spanish, and now Korean, too, applying the same basics. Now, when I am at the head of the class in her shoes, I try to apply some of her methods. She was good at encouraging us to use our imaginations for conversation drills, making them fun instead of just another page in the book. This love of languages has served me well in Korea, because as I study object and location markers, I understand more of my students’ difficulties and why they make the mistakes they do, which has added to my effectiveness as their teacher.

In addition to languages, I love children. My first day teaching in kindergarten, the teacher I replaced showed me the building, my classes, and introduced me to my students. I fell in love with them immediately—well, almost all of them. I soon learned that each class has its own troublemaker, and that some are simply mischievous, while others act out because of a problem. One of my 7-year-old boys had such a hard time in classes; he could not stay on task, and he was habitually distracted. As I read through the previous teacher’s notes, it seemed it had been going on for some time. After observing the class’s play time, I saw that there was a certain girl who always chased (and tormented him). After stepping in and separating them, the boy’s performance soon went to the top of the class, and he was much happier. Out of my love of children, I find myself drawn towards spurring them on to be the best they can be—to the point where half of my students have been promoted to elite classes, if not to higher levels altogether.

Finally, I have renewed my love of travel and have fallen in love with South Korea. Living in the United States, I have a lot of opportunities to travel around Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. itself. In high school, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Europe to see Germany, France, and Austria. Nothing has satiated my desire to travel like moving to South Korea and being allowed to experience life here hands on. Every day I get to go to taekwondo, or to Korean lessons, or out for galbi, or to visit a shrine or palace, I feel the honor of being in such a historical place.

Over the last year I have seen and done many things, from field trips of petting snakes to helping direct 13 7-year-olds in a graduation play, and fortunately nurtured my three loves of languages, children, and travel. I look forward to what the next year has in store!

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