“Home is behind you now… the world is ahead.”

“Bless us and splash us, my preciousss! I guess it’s a choice feast, at least a tasty morsel it’d make us, gollum,” I crooned eerily to a group of entranced 11 year olds surrounding me on the floor. A flicker of recognition crept across the face of one boy before he mimicked “my precious” and was rendered helpless by a fit of giggles. Soon afterwards, everyone in the class was attempting their best Gollum impersonation. One of the funniest things I’ve heard in recent memory was this group of kids whispering “my precious” in unison… like some bizarre religious ritual punctuated by lots and lots of giggles.  The girl next to the boy who had unknowingly disrupting the story was clearly all business; she elbowed him in the shoulder before “Shhh”-ing him with the severity of a practiced librarian. “Teacher…what happens next?”

Forty-five minutes beforehand, I found myself in a state of panic. I had prepared a flashy power point presentation for my Hobbit lesson plan complete with visuals, clips from the movies, vocabulary/grammar exercises and an array of riddles I was going to have the students solve. Technology wasn’t my ally that morning, and after an extended period of fumbling with the projector and cursing I under my breath I heard a knock on the door. Noses pressed eagerly against the window and smiling expectantly, my students were ready to invade the classroom. (Seriously, if you want to simulate the experience of a zombie apocalypse, just stand in an empty classroom and wait for these kids to arrive. Replace shuffling cannibalism with cheery smiles and protestations of “Teacher! Can we come in?” and it’s pretty damn close. They’d probably find a battering ram and break down the door if I ignored them long enough). The board was totally blank and the smart board hookup for my computer was defiantly unresponsive. Shit. What now? 

A bunch of flashcards with riddles on them. Pictures for prompting Tolkein related fantasy vocabulary, from wizard to wolves. A copy of the Hobbit graphic novel. With a carefully crafted lesson plan that I couldn’t access, that’s all I had in my arsenal when the kids got there. After a microsecond of concentrated internal panic, I took a deep breath and opened the door. Several minutes later, after buying some time by establishing the classroom rules (1. Listen carefully 2. Speak English 3. When the teacher is talking, be quiet) I had everyone push their desks back against the wall and sit in a circle around me on the floor. I was starting to get excited. I loved being read to as a kid, and even with the language barrier, I had pictures from the graphic novel version as reinforcement. Surprisingly, every student was in a state of hushed reverence, looking up at me and waiting for the story to begin. “In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit…”

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After two weeks of teaching my English Literature lesson plan (thankfully I gave my course a broad title so I can switch to a different book whenever I want. I’m thinking of doing Where the Wild Things Are or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory next) I’ve learned a few things:

a) Storytelling is still a powerful thing. Even when I fixed the technology, for the most part, the kids are listless and bored with the power point; they’re much more engaged, respectful and entertained when I read to them aloud.

b) I do a pretty badass Gandalf impression

c) Fantasy and escapism are perfect ways to bridge language and cultural barriers

d) If all else fails in terms of classroom management, stickers truly are the great equalizer

All things considered, my first academic lesson plan has been wildly successful and I can’t wait to branch out into other subjects. I’m considering developing a Greek Mythology course for after Christmas break.

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Although the routine of daily teaching has dominated the majority of my time the past few weeks, there have been a bunch of fantastic adventures interspersed among the grind. The other week I was craving some food from the outside world and ventured to Chilgok to wander aimlessly and see what culinary adventures were in store. After an almost magnetic attraction compelled me to enter a Korean seafood restaurant (okay, it was the live tuna and yellowtail swimming in a tank by the window), I gorged myself on a plate of raw fish that you wrapped up in mint leaves and ate with hot sauce. There’s still a feeling of exposure and self-consciousness about being the only foreigner in a traditional Korean restaurant, but if you power through that, you’ll be rewarded with something truly special. Behold!

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This past Sunday I went down to Daegu where I had a bowl of piping hot (both in terms of temperature and spiciness) tofu soup and an assortment of banchan (Korean side dishes, usually an arrangement of different types of Kimchi). In terms of cost efficiency ($7 for the above feast and a beer), you can’t beat the more low key Korean establishments. I might enforce a personal boycott against international foods for a little while; I’ve loved indulging in all of these new dishes and flavors. Bibimbap, kimbap (Korean sushi) and kimchi are definitely gifts from the gods.

Other reflections and experiences since my last update:

–       Successfully led my first night activity! Once in a while, teachers are assigned to entertain the kids in the evening for around an hour. Although the activity on my schedule simply said, “Quiz,” a title that mundane and academic fails to do justice to the glorious, barely contained chaos that would follow. Let’s set the scene: 200 students gleefully running around the auditorium while I stood on stage with only a microphone to suppress any potential revolts. A PowerPoint containing 50 multiple-choice questions (gems include “How tall is a giraffe’s neck” and “How hot is the sun”) cycled on a projector behind me while I read the questions with the slow, deliberate theatricality of a game show host.  Next, the kids would run to appropriately labeled corner (a,b,c or d) to signify their answer to the question. When I finally read the answer (after some suspenseful pauses on my end), you’d think I was giving out the Stanley Cup after a particularly grueling season. Hugging. Screaming. Cheering. Running around in circles. Repeat for the next 53 minutes. It was pretty fucking fantastic.

–       Consistently surprising myself with how well I’m able to navigate downtown Daegu: its’ becoming totally intuitive and second nature. Now to solidify my knowledge of public transportation around these parts!

–       Snow!!! Despite being trapped at the village for a night or two (avoiding a harrowing bus ride through the windy mountain pass seemed like a wise judgment call. Just take a glance down at my first blog post: bus drivers here will induce motion sickness on a good day), it was absolutely gorgeous and a tantalizing reminder of winter, the holidays and New England in general.

As the 25th looms closer and closer, I’m reminded of the fact that this is my first Christmas in 22 years not being celebrated at 25 Drumlin Road. A few friends and myself are leaving for a week Seoul tomorrow, and I’m incredibly excited to celebrate in one of the world’s great cities style but it won’t be without a tinge of wistfulness and nostalgia. Sending much love to everyone reading this back home; you guys are in my thoughts very often and will be sorely missed around the holidays. Courtesy of my awesome aunt, uncle and cousin, I’m eating some Christmas cookies (that taste even better after making the voyage across the Pacific) right this second, so that always helps. I have a new phone with internet access so Skype (Aorlando123), Twitter (teamned) and Facebook messenger are all available to me while I’m adventuring in Seoul. Be easy and stay in touch!!

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2 thoughts on ““Home is behind you now… the world is ahead.”

  1. Enjoy reading your blog and about your adventures, Have a Merry Christmas and keep the spirit of the season no matter where you are.

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