Well, it didn’t matter. He’d had enough. He wasn’t going to try to understand anything anymore. He was going home.
Except that wizards can never go home.
-Terry Pratchett, Sourcery
I come back to that quote every once in a while. When I first read Sourcery, back in high school, I breezed right past it; during a more recent read, it jumped off the page and lodged itself in my brain, and so far, despite my best efforts, I've been unable to kick it out.
Home is something I think about a lot. I've moved so many times that it's taken on a sort of hazy, unfocused quality. There's my hometown, where some of my family is, the place when I spent my childhood. There's my mom's home, in a town I've never lived in. Is it Seattle, where I graduated college? When I say "I want to go home," what do I mean?
My title, unfortunately, doesn't work very well as a joke when translated into English, as 공개수업 means "open class" while "공포수업" means "horror class". Poorly translated puns notwithstanding, what is open class? It's basically a sort of open house, a chance for parents to observe teachers and students in their natural habitats. In a word, it's stressful. In two words, it's very stressful.
I'm not sure why, but somehow the addition of just a few new faces sitting at the back of my classroom makes me forget how to put words into normal human sentences. I feel like Jack Donaghy in the 30 Rock episode where he has to act on live television: what do I do with my hands? Can I have two coffee cups? Where do my hands normally go when I'm standing?
As usual, I managed to go for weeks without posting, despite my best intentions. There's something about vacation that just sucks away what little ability I ever had to stick to deadlines or regimes, and suddenly it's been weeks and nothing at all productive has been done, even though I actually have more free time. It's a great mystery of my own personal universe.
In my defense, a lot has been going on. I did manage to buy my car, but not after what were probably the most stressful 48 hours of my life. Buying the car itself was pretty easy, but trying to get insurance...well, the phrase "when it rains, it pours" is pretty accurate here. Okay, story time.
So, I was cutting it pretty close, budget-wise, but I was pretty sure I had everything worked out. I'd heard from various people a ballpark range for insurance for a year, and naturally I divided that over 12 months and figured it was totally doable. That was, of course, where I made my first mistake.
There’s been a pretty negative atmosphere at school during the last week, and there’s one reason why: exam week. It’s the students’ final exams before the end of semester, a time when stress levels peak for pupils and teachers alike. Luckily for us foreign teachers, we are only in charge of one written exam. Apart from that, we’re not too involved in the tests, even the English one. But that doesn’t mean we’re completely removed from the drama when it’s exam season. During our time at the school we’ve seen students crying, parents crying, arguments, breakdowns and complaints.
What is the point of school? To get good grades? To make friends and have fun? To teach you about life and help you to become independent? Well I think that all three things are important. Unfortunately in Korea, I have seen far too much emphasis placed on the first thing: to get good grades. Of course, it’s well known that some of the best academic results in the world come from South Korea, and Western schools could certainly learn a lesson or two from the Koreans about how to gain such success. But what the Korean Education system surely lacks is balance, and the realisation that sometimes, less is more.
I think the hardest thing about living in Korea, as a foreigner, is what feels like constant scrutiny. Maybe it's easier in Seoul, or Busan, places where being a foreigner is no longer so noteworthy, but in my small city and smaller neighborhood, I feel as if everyone is super interested in anything and everything I do, from the moment I step outside my door. If I buy bread at the bakery, the owner wants to know why I'm buying it. For dinner? Breakfast? If I run into my students, they want to know where I'm going, why am I going there, who will I meet? Friends? Korean friends? American? A boy? Girl? Your boyfriend? North Korean spies?
Some days when it's raining, or work is particularly stressful... or both, I just need a reminder of why I love it here. The good times and the beauty can be so great that it makes the hard parts feel harder, or it could be one of those moments of cultural frustration referred to as K-rage. But either way, I needed to look at a few things I find so great and beautiful Korea, and so I decided to share it with you.
So in case your Monday was as rough as mine, or you just want to look at something pretty, I've got the antidote.
Today I completed my second time of open classes at my current school. When I went through this last year I was way more nervous. I really wanted to make a good impression last year, and so rolled out high energy and a lot of activities. This year, I was still a little nervous but seemed to calmly get through it.
Yesterday was the dreaded "Parent Teacher Conferences", and I am glad to report that I am still alive and well.
I had found out about these conferences at the end of last month while looking at one of my student's newsletters. Now my Korean is far from good, but I like to look at the news letters to get an idea of when this month's field trip is and when the monthly birthday party will grace me with more cake. This time I saw mention of all the kindergarten classes and different dates- I asked one of the Koreans about it and was told we were doing parent teacher conferences.
Now I've taught open classes where the administration can come in and watch me teach, but this was my first parent teacher conference as a non-student.