"Hi, I'm yuna. How have you been? I wonder you stayed very well in your house during vacation. Let me know about your time schedule,but it is not sure. Actually I have to tell you the most important things of all my saying. today I got a call from a officer in masan city hall. She told me that they wanted to have a Englilsh coversation from you.They have two hours class every Thuesday, and Thursday. If you want, they will give 30000won per hour and 10000won as a trnasportation fee. Totally you can get 70000won for one week. Is it possible to take a class in Masan city hall? I want to get your e-mail as soon as possbile. I have to answer to a officer tomorrow. See you again."
Obviously, something as well written and precisely conveyed as the aforementioned passage raises more questions than renders answers. I had about a billion questions for Yuna and the only answer she could give me was that she would have Boy Young, the best English speaking student in that class, give me a call to discuss the details. Boy Young did call that day but I was able only to procure interspersed fragments of information via the phone call. This was partly because Boy Young's English was limited and I wasn't doing us any favors while being balls deep into a bottle or two of soju and delicious nagchi chil pan (spicy octopus) with fellow couchsurfer Garrett on my first trip to Seoul.
Through the booze and the convoluted wording, I was able to establish a meeting with Boy Young back in Masan a few days later to pick up a textbook for my soon-to-be new students. The students, according to Boy Young, were "old adults with very limited English" but were very eager to learn. This, of course, was a welcomed departure from the "monkey boys" I have at my city school, whom I'm pretty sure under my tutelage have regressed in terms of English speaking capability.
I met with Boy Young, and after shaking off the rust (I've spoken with someone who has went fifteen years without speaking English. The rust shakes off quicker than one would imagine), was pretty easy to converse with. We went to the book store and after navigating the countless shelves of books dedicated to English education, I found one I felt was worthy. Boi Young called the director and asked for permission to use this book but my choice was vetoed because, get this, there "wasn't any Korean in the book and the students would be intimidated by it." I pressed for the book and the director finally caved.
I was told that there would be 53 students in class. I walked into the first class on March 3rd to 46 well-dressed Korean adults with with the blankest of poker faces and bone chilling silence. I nursed through the first class with a brief introduction of myself, some no-fail, confidence building out loud reading and a ice breaking activity to get them up and talking with one another. All-in-all a very successful first day.
Since then my enrollment numbers have trickled from 46 to about 20 in three weeks. I chalked it up to one of those natural trends that accompanies a new, albeit difficult, change. Think of the packed gyms after January 1st, and by the time you reach February 1st, you're likely to hear a pin drop over the blaring Britney Spears. To reaffirm, one need look only as far as the first day of class at any university and then revisit only a month later though some Korean friends have suggested that the withdrawal of students might be age-old Confucianism hard at work against me and my junior status.
Can you spot me in the crowd?Regardless of my standing, or general lack thereof within the social standing that Confucianism governs, I have a solid core of 18 or so students that attend class week in and week out. Over the past two and a half months, I have been meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays with city hall employees for two hours each day. We also meet for dinner before class on Tuesday, and every so often, a student says "fuck it, let's go to the bar instead of English class." Well, not exactly but you get the idea. Over these two months, I've had the opportunity to see those old blank faces turn into genuine smiles and excitement to see me as well as to learn English. The Koreans are known for this. At first, it's like looking at a stone wall but after you develop a relationship with them, they will do anything for you and will do so with a hardy smile.
May 15th was "Teacher's Day" and my students surprised me with Korean traditional garb called Hanbok as well as letters from each student thanking me for all I have done for them.
Masan City Hall - Thank You Letters (PDF)
As we took pictures for album, the men were telling me to give the women "western treatment (hug + kiss)." It's all quite touching. In fact, you might need a tissue. A definite departure from the Day 1 stares :) I think one of my students might have a crush on me. Can you guess who?