A Day to the Movies with Students

My wonderfully enthusiastic and unique coteacher, let’s call her JY, received a budget for a special English club for lower level students to give them an opportunity to be more exposed to English by just hanging out with us outside of school. She chose five 6th grade girls – a good choice because I adore them. Always bright in sweet in class, respectful. Their English level are not necessarily great, but they pay attention in class and try their best. They also receive extra help with foundation English after class.

JY decided that we should go to a movie and get dinner. Sure, I said, even though watching a movie isn’t exactly the most interactive activity to do. I had already seen Inside Out, but was more than willing to watch it again. It was such a wonderful and thoughtful movie, entertaining for both adults and kids. As a person who was quite psycho for cognitive psychology, there were some accurately portrayed concepts, like how our emotions influence the encoding and retrieval of memories. As Riley aged, her memories were more emotionally complex an and not just joyful. I was impressed with how they worked out some complex concepts. Of course, it’s a movie and not everything is going to be scientifically accurate. There isn’t a such thing as “core memories” nor “personality islands”. The islands consisted of values and interests that are built through experiences, whereas you are born with many of your personality traits and nurture shapes the extent to which those traits are expressed. Come on guys, it’s nature AND nurture, not nature vs. nurture. One of the morals of the story is that all of your emotions are important and serve you equally. You can’t push away sadness in order to be happy all of the time. Sadness comes with the experience of being human; it’s okay to feel it sometimes. Expressing sadness can even bring joy by communicating those emotions and thoughts to others so that the people close to you can cheer you up, thus creating stronger relationships and leading to feelings of joy.

Whoa, tangent! Anyway, go see Inside Out!

This whole outing was a very, let’s say Korean, day. And I enjoyed every minute of it as I was sort of reflecting on my time in Korea. I suppose much of my cognitive energy has recently been spent on either reflecting on Korea or thinking about the future travels, but more so the former. I’m both ready and not ready to leave.

After the girls finished classes, we piled into two cars to the bus terminal for the movie. Yes, people, the bus terminal. It doesn’t sound like a snazzy place, but they are happening in Korea. Gwangju’s USquare boasts a movie theater, sauna, department store, hair salon, several nice restaurants, a bookstore, coffee shops, a sauna… what else do you need? When we began to sniff the popcorn-scented air, the camera phones were immediately put into action as the girls dragged me in photos of the Inside Out poster and inflatable bear. Peace signs, selfies, “small face” hands, the whole shebang.


The movie start at 2:20pm, about an hour and a half after eating school lunch, which tends to be carb and grease heavy. Alas, the girls were still hungry (as Korean kids always seem to be) and JY ordered too many snacks to carry – several varieties of bucket popcorn, cheese powder to drench said popcorn, dried squid, and sodas. I accepted what was given to me and tried to consume these foods that I haven’t tasted in years.

It turns out that the movie was dubbed in Korean rather than having English subtitles. Luckily, I still understood everything since I saw it recently, and even got a Korean lesson out of it! I wonder how many of the jokes are lost in translation. Actually, the joke about confusing fact and opinion, one of my favorites, was completely taken out of the movie. And other parts of the film were changed to Korean writing – like when Bing Bong was “reading” the sign, “Shortcut This Way”, the sign was written in Korean instead of “Caution: Danger Ahead”. Little things like that. This got me thinking about the production of the film and how much work it took to translate and dub the movie into however many languages. Impressive. Wish I was bilingual so I could watch the movies in different languages and see how my perception is shaped by the wording.

We all sat in a row, the girls passing popcorn by the handfuls to each other. The two girls who earlier called dibs on who gets to sit next to me would randomly put popcorn in front of my face for me to eat and even reach down into my cup to help themselves. When DJ was finished with her bowl of caramel popcorn, she’d pass the empty bowl down the line for YJ to fill it up again, then YB put a handful of onion popcorn and EJ topped it with her butter popcorn to create a sweet and savory concoction for their pal. This happened three times during the movie.

Halfway through, I reached into my cup for popcorn, only to surprisingly pull out a piece of dried squid. “오징어”, EJ whispered to me, the Korean word for squid. I guess she thought she was doing me a favor by sneaking it into my popcorn cup. Cute. I politely ate it, chewing through the chewy texture. Not my favorite.

Toward the end of the movie, DJ put her straw in my cup to gulp down on my soda, which I was more than glad to share. This kind of behavior would not happen back home. In fact, when I worked in various settings with kids in America, they were not allowed to share food with the fear of allergic reactions, which I guess is understandable to some point. It was kind of torturous seeing kids get in trouble for kindly sharing their Doritos in exchange for Pringles though. But it’s standard behavior for people to share food like this here in Korea. Even though it could be a little gross and unsanitary at times, it is still good to step out of your comfort zone and give your immune system a little boost, eh? It’s what you do here.

As the movie ended, tears and smiles were shared. We zipped to the bathroom to release our bladders, only to find a long line. One bathroom stall appeared to be vacant, but no one opted to enter that one. Upon reaching the front of the line, I peered in to see what the fuss was about. The toilet water had the faintest tint of yellow to it, but it was completely fine. No smelly poops or blood smeared on the seat. It’s usable, just combine pees! I let it mellow at home anyway to save water. So I ~bravely~ went into that stall. Oh, Koreans.

We congregated back outside when the girls talked about their hunger, even after consuming their buckets and sodas. These teeny tiny preteens. HOW?

We browsed through an array of restaurants and they ultimately decided on TGI Fridays. I always said TGIF to them every Friday.

I have never eaten there in Korea, so I was quite curious on how this cuisine differed from the microwaved meals served at the American branches. Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting much.

JY ordered all of the food, as is typical in Korea. First, we received some waters and two sodas — which the girls shared with separate straws — and some warm rolls. The salad came shortly after – an assortment of carrots, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, fried chicken strips, and honey mustard dressing – and was set in the middle of the table. Everyone dug in at once. Two soups came next, which the girls shared, dipping and redipping their spoons. As I mentioned, I love sharing culture, but the redipping of spoons in soup is not something I haven’t acclimated with yet. Finally, the main dishes came. Steaks here, chickens there, shrimp pasta, bread bowl pasta, a hamburger. Everything was set in the middle and you got it – everyone shared. Still full from lunch and it only being 4:30, I wasn’t hungry. I poked at the buttered broccoli and carrots as well as the rice, which was Korean rice trying to be westernized with peas and carrots. The sticky texture of the short-grain Korean rice is distinct. While YJ was munching on her creamy pasta, JY took it away to switch it with a chicken dish to equally distribute the reach-ability of plates. One girl would reach over another to twirl some spaghetti on her fork while another ripped apart the bread bowl to dip in the side of creamy sauce, dripping everywhere as it traversed the table into her mouth. I loved the chaos!

Sharing is caring - never truer words

Sharing is caring – never truer words

The girls were pretty shy to speak English, but I could understand some of what they chatted about. When the word “남자 친구” came up, they all giggled uncontrollably and adamantly assured that they do NOT have boyfriends, heaven forbid! They talked about UR’s face (not nice things) and played the “no laughing, no showing teeth” game, in which we all proved to be failures. I’m okay with failing that task. All phones were out as they took repetitive selfies and fixed their curly bangs. All while sitting in TGI Fridays, eating with a fork and knife, and sitting in a circular booth. The atmosphere seems American initially, but everything else was very Korean.

The girls’ behavior toward me changed the next two days at school. They run up to me in the hallways for hugs and were more giddy in class. I wish I did this earlier so we could continue this kind of relationship!

It was a special and memorable day with these students. I’ll miss them. A lot.

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