Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bundang Teaching and Living. Mostly Boredom.

I haven't posted in a long time not because I hate my blog or the people that read it, but more because my life has settled down into a routine so boring I'm reminded of high school. Get up, shower, eat, go to work, come home, watch t.v., read books, sleep, do it again. Not only that, but my teaching job is so structured, generally to the minute, that every day is exactly the same, just with different students and slightly different information to teach.

Despite the boredom, I can't complain. I don't know that I've ever been happier. My job is so incredibly rewarding, what with the teaching and the kids speaking more and more English with fewer and fewer mistakes and those monster paychecks I get once a month, I'm just happy. Plus, most of the rest of my life is basically in order. I'm eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep, but not the 12 hours of day wasting I used to, and I can't help but think how different life would be if I'd gone to grad school last year. I mean, I know how that goes; the 15 extra pounds from the greasy fast food, the constant stress of papers to grade and papers to write, the drinking, good god the drinking, the hangovers, the swollen puffy eyes, the bloated face, the liver pains, the next day apologies. No, I'm thinking Korea was a good idea.

The teaching really is rewarding. Although the strange material keeps coming at me. Sex-selective abortion was a vocabulary term a couple of weeks ago, and there were a couple of 12 year olds who knew exactly what it was and didn't hesitate to tell me all kinds of stories about their cousins or aunts or mom's friends who'ed really wanted that boy. And then of course there was the eight year old who knew nothing about abortion or any of that and I started down a very strange path when I asked how long it takes for a woman to have a baby, "Teacher, eight months? Ten months? Nine?" And then asked the question how long does it take for a man to make a baby? "Teacher, a week?" And then I realize that I'm basically starting to teach sex ed, which I really don't want to do, what with my hyper-sensitive ingrained Americanism, as in "we don't talk about sex with children lest we be accused of teaching kindergarteners about using condoms." So it was at that point I just stopped and said "Ask your parents."

This is the type of thing I constantly tell my students: "Tell your parents that if you ever get into a situation where you have to eat them, it's called endo-cannibalism." And then I imagine the whole conversation between Suzie and her mother, Suzie who is cute in the way a baby panda and a baby tiger curled up in a ball are cute. Mother: "What did you learn today?" Suzie:"That if you eat me or I eat you, that's called Endocannibalism." Mother: "Well, let's hope it never comes to that." Suzie: "It's pretty rare, but it could happen, so we'd better be prepared." And then I imagine the mother's dazed look, and the thought bubble, "Last week sex-selective abortion, this week Cannibalism? Well they say Chungdam is the best, I guess she'll keep going."

Also I feel like my students really learn to speak English. In Korea you can safely assume that many of the people you come into contact with speak some English. They've invested billions of dollars to learn our language, and almost everyone who goes to college speaks English and every one who works in a service job speaks some English. But the problem is that the English teaching has been so poor that many Koreans can make the sounds and the words and all that, but they can't actually COMMUNICATE in English. It's a country that's learned scripts. As in, "May I take your order?" And the twenty or so reasonable responses to that question. But ask the people at the hotel when the church service starts at the chapel around the corner, or the guy at 7-11 if he saw and liked the movie Avatar, good luck. Go off the script, and you can forget about comprehension and communication.

A lot of this comes from the drilling and the memorization that are so prized. Sure, a lot of 12 year old kids have vocabularies that rival most American college graduates, but when they don't know how to put the words together, it's useless. It becomes sounds with no meaning. Combine that with the fact that many of the public school English teachers are Korean, and speak English with heavy, heavy accents, you get students who can pass any English test you put in front of them based on grammar and vocabulary, and can memorize huge paragraphs of English in no time, but when you ask them "What's your name?" they just stare at you and then maybe answer something like "Lal-pa" which you then ask them to repeat five hundred times until finally you look it up on the computer or have him write it down and it says "Ralph." This is both frustrating, and incredibly common.

But at Chungdahm, a school that has a strong emphasis on memorization and vocab building still, there's this small glimmer of hope. I can tell that these kids are learning to combine their English scripts. That after a couple of weeks in my class they stop looking at the book in front of them for the answer to "How was your weekend?" (Another odd phenomenon, I can ask them difficult questions about the reading which they can find the answers to in the book, but ask them "How's it going?" or to summarize what they've just read, and they act like your speaking a language their parents haven't invested thousands of dollars in.) It's a nice feeling, because I know that many of my students will go out into the world ACTUALLY speaking and communicating in English and not just working off of their script. And my hope is that soon all of Korea will get this message, that all of Korea will see a true return on their billion dollar investment. We'll see.

Other than that, my life is going by fast. Christmas was great, my parents were here for the week, it snowed a ton, life was good. And as you can see, I even had the time, money, and friends to Karaoke some.