During our exhausting EPIK teacher orientation, we were constantly told two words: be flexible. We were warned about last-minute changes, vague answers, and miscommunication. I have just been going along for the ride with whatever my coteachers decide to tell me. Today was quite a day.
It all began when I woke up at 8:17. My tired eyes grew wide and I immediately jumped out of bed and hastily got dressed for work. Instead of taking the ten-minute walk, I flew over to school on my bike. I couldn’t believe that I actually made it at 8:30. It would have been fine had I arrived twenty minutes late, but I don’t want to make that impression. Koreans are pretty intense about showing up to work.
“You look tired, Lianne” was the first thing my co-teacher said. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t wearing any makeup.
I decompressed a bit and prepared for the day’s classes. My other co-teacher informed me that she lost the key and we were locked out of the English classroom, so we would be traveling to the students’ classrooms to teach. Not a big deal. Fourth period was also canceled due to a school event. Surprise!
Classes went smoothly; my sixth graders were cracking me up with a charades game we played. These kids are intense about competition.
Because I slept in, I didn’t have time to eat before school. I wasn’t that hungry, but there was a box of 떡, or Korean rice cakes, in the office today. It’s not uncommon for there to be food that the teachers snack on while socializing. They were absolutely delicious!
During the canceled class, we were able to watch what was going on from the teacher’s office. Each grade wore a particular color and lined up to form the phrase “Against school bullying” in Korean. I can’t understand all of the Korean, but I know kids can be cruel to each other. In such a collectivist society, being different is the absolute last thing a Korean wants. Also, it is too common for kids, both boys and girls, to smack their friends on the back or head. I see it all too often. Anyway, after fumbling around and listening to loud announcements, each student released a balloon in the air. The day was perfectly clear and sunny, so we squinted at the sky as the balloons disappeared. I wonder where those balloons are now. It’s kind of horrible for the environment! Anti-school bullying, anti-environment.
After lunch, we walked around the schools and I discovered huge cherry blossom trees and a little park with different kinds of rocks with labels on them. It was right in the school yard the whole time but I never bothered to explore. That was a nice discovery.
I got back to the office and prepared for the after-school classes I’ll have in the next two days. Suddenly, a message popped up from the school messaging system. With my limited Korean skills, I was able to make out that there is a sporting event at 3:00 in the gymnasium. Sure enough, my co-teacher confirmed that there is a volleyball tournament. No big deal, I sort of enjoyed going to watch the school teams competitively battle against each other. Then she goes on to say that all of the teachers are playing while she pointed to her bag of gym clothes. Oh my goodness. She said I would still be able to play because I’m not wearing “classy” clothes. I lacked sneakers though; I was wearing the school slippers (You take your shoes off inside school and wear slippers. I love it).
We get to the gym at 3:00 to find the other teachers all decked out in their purple uniforms. Hm, I didn’t stand out at all in my work clothes. It’s like being at the mountain hiking in a t-shirt while the Koreans are decked out in their expensive and brightly colored clothes and heavy backpacks for a day hike. Anyway, we did some collective stretching and I headed off to the sidelines with the rest of the “special” teachers (art, music, English, P.E.). The first game was intense as any game is in Korea and then it was our team’s turn. Another teacher from the office got to opt out and she gave me her sneakers. I was placed in the middle row. I was totally afraid.
I think I yelped each time the ball came to me, but I managed to successfully hit it 75% of the time. The worst was the very last round when I hit the ball not even an inch away from the principal’s head. Yes, the loving, kind, 70 something year old principal that had brain surgery last year. I almost hit him straight in the head. I wonder if I would have been fired.
Our team lost but I still had a pleasant time. I consider myself an active and athletic person, but I fail miserably at any sports involving a ball. Teachers came up to me and praised my volleyball “skills”. They were just being nice.
After the game, we headed to the cafeteria where boxes of fried chicken, sweet potatoes, rice cakes, and 막걸리 (fermented rice wine) waited. I never thought I’d be drinking alcohol at the same table a first grader eats his kimchi after P.E. class.
Surprises. Today was full of surprises. I like the unpredictability that is Korea.