Friday, March 7, 2014

Ready, Set, Spring!

Spring break at my alma mater begins today, but for me, this TGIF marked the end of my first week of the spring semester. True to form for a Korean school, the class schedules have not yet been finalized, and I've spent a good chunk of time attending opening ceremonies and sitting in on faculty meetings where I understand nothing. One thing that did surprise me, though, was that I ended up spending fewer hours this week actually teaching classes than I did proofreading posters and scripts for my second-years' upcoming presentations at various science competitions.

The semester has just begun, but already the second-years are in high gear as they prepare everything they can for their university applications this fall. A prize from a national or international science fair would be a huge boon. So, eight students are currently working on five different research projects in physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and environmental science, and all of them approached me in the middle of the week with just one request: "Teacher, please check my draft?"

At times I'd simply get an email from a student with an enormous file attached, subject: "Here is our poster" and nothing in the email body. I've really got to teach them how to properly ask favors of people. This will not fly in college.

Smoothing out the grammar and adjusting the layouts of five scripts and five posters takes a heck of a long time, I soon found out, but on the other hand, I really enjoyed doing it. Like I always say, my students are geniuses, and the advanced work they produce never fails to impress me, even if at times I can't make sense of their English. (I always wonder if my failure to understand is a result of my poor grasp of science, their poor grasp of English, or actually an error in the data, or perhaps even all of the above. In fact, I caught a calculation error in a student's report today, and she was slightly embarrassed, as all of my students are aware that I suck at math.)

Today, the other English teachers, the students' advisers, and I attended their mock presentations and coached them on pronunciation and presentation technique. Some of them will go to Seoul this weekend to compete; I wish them the best of luck!

As for the new first-year students... Yay, freshmen! They are so adorable, there's no denying that. They still bow very low to all the teachers, they usually look lost and confused when they walk into my classroom, and they're also quite friendly so far.

My traditional first class always includes a short Q&A session with my new students, and when I tell them they can ask me any question they like, the first one is almost always, "Do you have a girlfriend?" Sigh... Having been in Korea for so long now, the question doesn't faze me anymore, but -- Americans! If you were asked that by your students, wouldn't you think it rather unexpected, or even rude? It's so hard for me to take that question as a natural part of the getting-to-know-you-process; to be honest, I tend to attribute it to an apparent Korean obsession with relationships that I'll never understand.

Here are some other gems from the grill sessions!
  • A girl stood up and stuttered for a minute, embarrassed, before choking out, "Do you think that you are handsome?" I told her I thought I was maybe average.
  • Her friend later asked, "Do you think that you look like 휘성?" (Google "Wheesung".) I looked him up in class and said, "Um... no. Next!"
  • "Where did you get your hairstyle?" When I told him I went to Hongdae, the whole class went, "우~~~! (Oooh!)"
  • One shy student asked, "When will you go back to your country?" The entire class shushed him, but I quickly said that it was fine! Any question is okay. I told him (honestly) that I'm not 100% sure yet. But I feel bad; I don't think he asked because he wants to know how soon I'll be gone, but rather because he knows that foreign English teachers rarely stay for long.
  • On that note, one of my second-years, who knows that I plan to go to graduate school, asked me this evening when I was planning to return to the United States. I gave him a more complete answer: I've been accepted to a graduate school, but I have not committed yet. And to be frank, I don't want to leave Korea! I don't even want to be talking about it yet, least of all with my students...
  • Another second-year student, whom I called MJ last year: "Teacher, can you call me (by my nickname,) YM? All of my friends call me that." I replied with a smile, "Ooh, does that mean I'm your friend?" Her response: "Um..."
  • Lastly, I've discovered a teacher's pet! Ha. Or rather, he discovered me: on Wednesday, a first-year student I hadn't taught yet came by in the afternoon, as nervous and awkward as any new student has ever been. He greeted me in well-rehearsed English, informing me that his name was Dave and that he had come by just to introduce himself. I shook his hand; he bowed when he took it. As soon as he left the classroom, he turned to his friends and let out a loud sigh that clearly meant, "Ughhh I finally did it! That was nerve-wracking as hell." Made me smile. The next day, after class, he asked me if I liked Dr. Who and Supernatural, which are his two favorite TV shows. Unfortunately, I don't. But I invited him to tell me all about the shows so that I could find out!

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