Classes began today, and they were fairly overwhelming. As I said before, I was placed in an intermediate level (out of four levels: absolute beginner, advanced beginner, beginner-intermediate, and advanced). But I was worried that I would struggle a little bit because I only have one semester of formal Korean training under my belt, and that was two years ago.
Well, I ate a super-rushed breakfast this morning at 8:45am, went up to the sixth floor of the main building, and found my classroom. At 9:00am, the "horror" began and all that I dreaded came true: 김선생님 (Teacher Kim), a petite Korean lady with a gentle persona, began to speak, and I understand not a single word that came out of her mouth. Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, I guess. I understood about 10% of the words that she spoke. Words like "hello", "name", and "America". I was slightly terrified for the first half hour of class.
But after a bit, I started to catch on. Parts of the lecture that dealt with grammar I could follow by what she wrote on the blackboard, and she also was very helpful in explaining in detail what activities we were going to do. There was also lots of reading, which I'm more comfortable with. Lastly, there are four Korean-Americans in my class (who probably belong in a higher-level class), and the other six 학생 (haksaeng, or students) have a bit more Korean classroom skills than I do, so, following their lead, I could stumble along fairly well.
And stumble along I did, for the duration of four fifty-minute class periods that morning. By 1:00pm, I was worn out from the non-stop Korean, and I nearly ran to lunch.
The interesting thing is that because of my difficulties, I feel like I can better grasp what my future English students will feel in class. Like Korean students of English, I've studied from the book, and I've watched Korean media, so the extent of my language skills is good conjugation and limited vocabulary, as well as some useful conversational phrases. But it's nowhere near conversational level, and I'm not used to using it regularly at all. My students will come to my class having studied English grammar and reading comprehension only, and my goal is to get them to be conversational (among other things). But they might feel completely lost and overwhelmed even on the first day. They'll be intimidated by some of their peers and frustrated at their own lack of understanding. I was! So I'll just have to be as gentle as 김선생님 and as exuberant and funny as 홍선생님, our other teacher. I want my classroom to be a safe space in every way possible.
Okay... So, some other reasons why I feel like I'm going to pass out as soon as I finish typing this: following lunch, we had two workshops lasting 3.5 hours total on classroom management and important things to do on the first day of class. Again, I'm incredibly grateful and relieved that Fulbright's orientation is training us the way they are. While it's not fun to have tons of information thrown at you in big chunks like this, the fact that they are spending the time and effort to bring outside people in (our workshop leaders were current ETAs with one or two years' experience in Korean classrooms) and give us as many resources as possible is really, really good.
After the long but informative (but looooong) workshop, I went to the first meeting of my taekwondo class! I was very excited about this one, for reasons which I'll explain in a later post, but in all honesty, everyone was completely drained by 5:30pm and we could hardly pay attention to our 사범님 (sabeomnim, or master) as he gave us a brief history and description of taekwondo. More on this later. After taekwondo, dinner. After dinner, Global Language Education Exchange meeting, where we played Charades and my team ("Bigger Bang") pwned everyone else in the first round and eventually got second place. After GLEE (hehe), one-on-one conferences with an Orientation Coordinator to see if we're adjusting all right. Which I am, and am thankful for. After that, I was very ready to go to bed, but I played a few rounds of Bananagrams first...
Today: breakfast, four hours class, lunch, three point five hours workshops, one hour lecture, dinner, one hour game, half hour meeting, Bananagrams, and now I need to sleep. Tomorrow's another big day. Oh, but first: a cute puppy (귀여운 강아지!) that I met on my way to my first Korean restaurant.