Thanksgiving in Korea

It felt weird going into work on Thanksgiving Thursday.

That week was the school English festival. I ran a Golden Bell trivia contest in each of my classes. We reviewed the questions and answers the previous week and I thought they were rather easy questions for them. While conducting the quiz show, I was a bit surprised to find out how low level my students really are. It made me realize that when the students are talking in class, they are not just being obnoxious sixth graders. Rather, they don’t understand a word that I am saying. Telling them to be quiet won’t help, either. I might as well say “It’s a nice day out today, isn’t it?”. They wouldn’t know the difference. It motivated me to change the class a bit and be more simplistic. I already speak very basic English in class, but I need to make further accommodations.

On the other hand, I was impressed with a handful of students as a judge for the Dream Speech contest. The week prior, I edited every single speech. It was obvious that some students received help in writing the essays. What third grader knows the words “discipline” and “accordingly”? Not even American third graders would use those words.

Each speech was special and adorable. There are major differences between each grade in terms of skill level, as is to be expected. I was pretty blown away by the 6th grade speeches, though. Only about five out of 200 students entered the contest. Some of the students were the quiet ones in class. I was under the impression that they were low level, but in fact, they are very well acquainted with English. Their speech’s content was not basic and superficial like the 5th graders’. I could see into their personalities and passions. For example, one student wrote about his dream to become an interface designer. He already had a company name and logo, which he presented before explaining why he chose these particular details. It was very introspective. Another girl wrote about collectivism, which she called consideration, and how it works. People need to work together to solve problems and to maintain peace. Not only was her pronunciation, fluency, and format impressive, her speech was insightful.

I learned about the lowest of the low and the highest of the high the English fluency spectrum is.

My vocal chords were strained through the trivia question days. The 6th graders are particularly rowdy. By the end of my ninth session, I had to force words out for my sweet 5th grade classes. Luckily, my incredible co-teacher repeated the questions after me, saving my voice for half of the class. After lunch, I had one last 6th grade class. Not surprisingly, the girl who wrote about collectivism and consideration was one of the three winners. I really like her. She’s shy and not one of those students who run up to me saying “OHHH HI LIANNE!”. Her mental age clearly does not belong in elementary school nor middle school for that matter.

Finally, I had two hours worth of after school classes with wild children. I explained Thanksgiving, played Thanksgiving songs, showed them the Macy Thanksgiving Day parade, and had them color in turkeys which were labeled with colors in English. The little ones are probably only learning those words in Korean, so obviously they did not know the English colors, nor could they really read yet. They all completed with the proper colors (with help). I wrote “Happy Thanksgiving” on the board for them to copy on their papers. One particularly energetic, and sometimes naughty, 1st grader handed me his turkey with the words “Ring the Golden Bell!!” on it. It turns out he was looking at the wrong part of the board. Giggling commenced. What a cutie.

In the night time, I attended Korean class. The class size for the intermediate level went from somewhere in the 20s down to about 10 regulars. There was a whopping five of us in attendance on Thanksgiving, but three of us left early to go to a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner at a local foreigner bar (oxymoron). The bar owner was kind enough to open his kitchen and tables to host a pot luck dinner since most of us don’t have ovens or enough room to host. About twenty foreigners came together and sat down for a Thanksgiving dinner. The Irish folk don’t have such a tradition, so we welcomed them to American culture.

Ingredients for traditional Thanksgiving food is nearly impossible to find, but everyone pulled it off. There was turkey, all kinds of chicken (from rotisserie to KFC), gravy, all kinds of potatoes, bread, salad, cranberry sauce, green beans, an almond cheese log, quinoa salad, cookies, ice cream, and my contribution: wine and an eggplant and mushroom dish. I was impressed with the variety and quality of food. I strained my voice all night and it became apparent the next morning when I couldn’t produce sound. Luckily, my incredible co-teacher was my voice for the day.

Round two of Thanksgiving was at Cobi’s rather large (by Korean standards) apartment for the Gwangju August 2012 intake. We call ourselves the Gwangju Family.  My spicy potatoes smothered in Tony’s creole seasoning was a hit, but others’ cooking surpassed mine. Erin’s chicken and dumplings dish was delectable. The only memory I have of chicken and dumplings was at Daryl’s family’s place in Mississippi. Erin is a southern belle also hailing from Mississippi, so that dish made me feel all warm inside. Janessa’s puppy chow was unexpected and completely devoured. I found myself gravitating toward the peanutbutter and sugar covered cereal even after eating three pieces of the five cakes and pies on the dessert spread. I sipped on wine and soju cocktails all night while getting cozy with my pals. I like having a nice group of friends here, especially on the holidays.  This year was first time in five years missing Shaun’s Thanksgiving. Spending Thanksgiving with 20 new friends from all different backgrounds was not the same as with family or a handful of the closest friends in the universe, but it was a great substitution. I really like the people of Gwangju.



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