3.3 Fall 2021

November 20, Debate final

Today was the mandatory debate festival.

One school didn’t even show up, so at least we got them beat!

Three girls and my other son, Boy 3, came to a high school in Masan at the end of the world for the culminating debate festival.

I was assigned to judge video presentations from far away schools and a few live presentations that were set up like a science fair, foam boards included.

The video presentations. Well, bless their hearts, they did what they could but my goodness did they lack pizazz. They had been prerecorded and as many as five individual student speeches were included in one school’s video, which made feedback difficult.

Everyone gets an A?

The live presentations ranged from okay to amazing. It’s not that none of the kids tried but rather some were clearly new to both public speaking and English.

Many of them read paragraphs of discourse from a sheet of paper which, in addition to masks, made their reading monotonous and unintelligible at times. But I applaud all the kids in our province attempting to give any speech in a second language.

The feistier high schools chose debate, though sadly I didn’t get to see any as they were whisked away to the basement to fight to the death.

I really enjoyed meeting kids from all over the county and asking them questions. This is my favorite thing, truly.

During the first presentation, my fellow foreign teacher judge was a tall black woman in a beautiful structured jacket. The high school boy, when he did nervously look up, only made eye contact with me.

It could have been that he was curling in on himself in my general direction already. But maybe, and this is my guess, out of the two of us, a light skinned foreigner is more familiar to him. I thought about how even though I’m an obvious foreigner, it’s much easier for me to pass through the Korean world unnoticed compared to my darker or bigger friends.

I kept crossing paths with another foreign teacher as we had been assigned to judge some of the same groups. She never sat down in the provided plastic chairs and said she preferred to stand. I thought she may like being at eye level with the students or had a “keep moving” mentality until we were together at my students’ table where Jenny encouraged (forced) her to take a seat.

She whispered at me conspiratorially “I never like sitting in these because I don’t know if they’ll hold my weight. I’m heavy.”

“Oh is that why you never sat down? I had no idea! Yeah these chairs really are 50/50.”

You’ve all seen these plastic lawn chairs before, and you’ve all had a near death experience in an old weathered one where one leg bends or gives out.

I was surprised that her reason was so far from what I had guessed, and it’s a reminder that you really have no idea of a person’s inner thoughts. It’s a good case study on the importance of inclusion in something as seemingly innocuous as chairs.

My son, Boy 3, gave us his presentation in our seats and I, like a proud mom, mentioned several times to my judge mate that he passed his mechanic exam.

Finally the morning was over and after I presented my kids with their participation certificates, and my own off tune graduation song sound effect, we all shuffled past the table for snacks and finally out through the doors. Jenny and the girls were already halfway down the hill so I shouted goodbye, in what was the most fitting end to this class.

Boy 3 hung out by the door while people streamed around us. The rafter above kept dripping on me.

“Goodbye,” I told him, appreciating that at least the two of us put certain stock in farewells.

He looked up from fiddling with his phone.

“It was an honor,” he said seriously and though I missed the rest of the sentence, much like I had missed of all the other students through the morning, I didn’t need to hear the rest.

We parted ways shortly after that, and after confirming he had a ride home. I was the only one to park at the top of the mountain because the high school was on the same campus as the local university and I got lost.

It felt… incomplete, to walk up the mountain alone, leaving all the teachers and students to pour down the mountain into the parking lot below.

I should have gotten a picture of us, I thought when I was already too far.

But I think that closure isn’t inevitable; sometimes we have to gather the loose ends, roll them into a ball, and put them back into the sewing kit, to view fondly the next time we need a button.

I drove away from the campus of the edge of the world and thus ended the unexpected ride of debate 2021.

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