3.1 Spring 2021

April 1

This morning I called my mom en route to school and she told me that the neighborhood bear had quite literally invited itself in through the back porch door to eat MnMs on the kitchen counter.

My parents have a security camera on the front porch and I showed the fourth graders an older clip of that same bear moseying through our front yard.

I continued the story in Korean: “My mom and I talked. Yesterday, that same bear came inside the house.” There was a collective gasp and even I got goosebumps.

“Do you know the candy ‘MnMs’? It came to eat the MnMs. Our dog was very angry and barked a lot. In the end, the bear just ate and left.” They all laughed at the last part.

One student asked, “is the bear a chocoholic?” He is indeed.

I looked at the sea of little faces this morning and was overcome with affection.

I wish interacting with adults was as easy.

At lunch, I ate quickly and quietly which is my usual MO in an attempt to keep up with Jack who somehow always finishes faster than me, even if he’s engaged in conversation about his wife.

I usually listen peripherally but don’t understand much. The conversation took a turn and Jack told the two young teachers across from us in Korean that I was around their age.

Now, I didn’t quite catch all he said but he gave them a brief history to let them know I studied Korean and then said it must be difficult to speak and listen here because of the local dialect.

Here’s the thing, friends—Gyeongnam dialect is not obscure or unintelligible like the different Chinese dialects are.

The problem is that I’m just not good at Korean. It doesn’t matter what accent you use to speak if I can’t understand the vocabulary…

I had flashbacks of the office staff in Seoul telling me they thought I was impolite because I didn’t talk much when the reality was (and is) I’m simply not fluent. I just want people to know that I’m not rude, I’m just dumb!

Unfortunately, my Korean is just good enough to make me look purposefully standoffish instead of clueless.

I have no qualms staggering through conversations with friends or homeroom teachers, but it’s a bit different in a large group where my singular improficiency will slow the conversation.

The only solution is to become fluent!

Things are still a bit quiet in our office. Jack usually disappears for hours to attend to after school classes or presumably hang out with other middle aged men on the roof which leaves Helen, the floating teacher, and me.

The floating teacher is probably in her 40s and doesn’t speak much English, as she’s apologized before (which I told her was unnecessary).

After lunch we are usually all working in comfortable silence. I’m finishing lesson plans for the next day, the floating teacher is ordering office equipment, and Helen is listening to something with her headphones.

She often talks to the floating teacher in Korean and in a tone wildly different, almost sharp, than her nice English. We haven’t chatted since her brief explanation of how to use the online portal last week.

Sometimes I feel like a made a misstep somewhere. With Yana it’s a bit different because we’re in the classroom at the same time and as a first time English teacher she seems eager to develop our relationship, but Jack, Helen, and I are only together in the office for planning hours.

I don’t know if the previous foreign teacher was really chatty and by comparison I seem standoffish, or if our shared quiet typing is acceptable. I’ll have to try breaking the silence next time and observe the reaction.

I do like the floating teacher though: in our brief alone time she usually gives me treats (because she feels bad the others are gossiping about me? My overthinking brain supplied unhelpfully).

Baked sweet potatoes, apple juice, candy, chocolate. I don’t even know her name but I feel like we vibe. She actually inspired me to start steaming my own sweet potatoes which is quite easy with a rice cooker!

Kids are weird but wonderful and at the end of the day it’s only important that they like me… the most, because who am I if not a little bit competitive?

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