Spring is here…finally!

It has been a few weeks since my last post.  We’ve been here in Korea now for a little over two and a half months, and we’ve been teaching for just over a month and a half….but if feels like so much longer.  Adjusting to my new job as an English teacher has been an overall positive experience, but some days are still more stressful and difficult than others.  I know I’ve adjuted fairly well because I’ve learned to let go of my expectations about how each day will/should go.  I now come to school each day fully prepared to have my schedule changed, or to have to perform some task without any advance notice.  Being “fully prepared” is more or less a posture and a state of mind rather than a discipline of planning ahead.

A recent development in my responsiblities as a teacher is the coaching of a student who will be competing in an English speaking competition sometime in the future (though the date has yet to have been set).  Her name is 진선 (Chin Son), and she is a 3rd grade (9th equivalent) student here at Buk Middle school.  She is working on memorizing a poem that she will perform in front of a panel of judges.  She will be judged in three categories:  memorization skills, pronunciation, and emotion.  Most Koreans have good memorization skills, so I am primarily coaching her in pronunciation and emotion.  Fortunately, she is very good in her pronunciation skills, but emotion is one we are working hard on.  Due to Korean culture’s emphasis on “saving face,” most of the time it is considered inappropriate to display strong emotion (especially in front of strangers).  Therefore, I am trying to help her display emotion in such a way that people who hear her recite the poem will be moved by its lyrical power.  I hope she does well, not just for her sake, but also for mine.  I am concerned also for myself because in Korea, when a student fails at something, much of the blame is laid on the teacher (even if the teacher did everything in their power to help the student succeed).

The best part of coaching 진선 is that I’ve been able to get to know a student of mine outside of class.  As you already know, I teach around 635 students each week, so building relationships with individual students is nearly impossible.  진선 is a bright and kind student who really wants to speak English fluently.  When I asked her why she is doing this competition (because there is no real prize other than the status of winning), she said it is so she can practice her English and get better at it.  Well, she is doing just that because her English gets better each day.  Her hard work inspires me to keep working on my Korean skills.  I hope to get better and better at Korean so that building relationships with Koreans will become easier.

Well, Spring is finally here, and we are so excited.  Korea proves itself to be a beautiful country when the plants start sprouting, and the cherry blossoms start blooming.  One thing I love, and will love even more each weekend, is how close we are to nature.  No matter where one is in the city, it does not take long to find and get to a mountain covered in the colors of spring and intertwined with hiking trails.  Where Jill and I live we are in walking distance to one mountain that I am very seriously considering hiking daily for my weekly morning routine.

This last weekend,  some friends and us went to a high school in Cheonan that is famous for its cherry blossoms.  Every year the school sponsors a cherry blossom festival to show off the blossoms, and provide leisure activities to anyone who wants to come.  The locals say it tops Seoul’s cherry blossom festival for its beauty.  I haven’t been to Seoul’s blossom festival, but I would have to agree with them in their description.  It was gorgeous!  The school is up on a mountain surrounded by tons of cherry blossom trees and colorful plant life.  The view from the school is just as breathtaking as it overlooks much of the city and is framed by mountains in the background.  I have a friend who teaches at this school, and I may try to get his position if he ever leaves!

Anyway, Jill and I are really excited about the warm weather and the new colors that are surrounding us.  I told Jill the other day that I think Korea is going to feel like a totally different country from when we arrived in the dead of winter.  We look forward to all the outdoor hiking and traveling we will be doing on the weekends.  Stay posted because there will be more pictures to come!  View some of my new pics listed under 리 photography.

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