We’ve reached the end of the school year in Korea. Two whole classes of grade sixers are graduating this Tuesday when I really only started to get to know them.
It won’t be the last I see of them though – most of them live in the area, which I know because I ran into some on the weekend with Andrea. One in particular was very lively about communicating with me in English (so proud, I was!), and not only gave me very wild gesticulations directing me to where her home was but also ran and got her sister and brother to hang out with me too (the latter of whom is in my grade four class, to be grade five in a few weeks).
End of February isn’t only the end of the academic year at school, however: it’s also when most EPIK teachers’ contracts are up. For me, only five months in (holy shit has it been five months already?!) –
– that’s not the case. The teacher I replaced had to break his contract and leave quickly due to personal reasons, hence my odd timing in a mid-semester start back in September.
But the kids don’t know that.
I’ve been asked many times by various students in the different levels whether or not I’m staying. There was the girl I mentioned above, then another girl and her friends in grade five (at which, when the affirmative answer was assured that yes I was remaining, a few fist pumps and “YESSS”‘s were had…I’m maybe a little bit smug about this) – and then there was Stable.
Stable is her English name – her self-chosen English name, I should say. No, it isn’t a misspelling of Sable, and no it doesn’t refer to maintaining a certain balance in the chaos of one’s life, but to the actual housing unit for horses.
She’s a sweet girl, perhaps a little on the socially awkward side. She reminds me a lot of myself when I was that age: a daydreamer, a bit of a moon child, and distinctly marching to a different drumbeat than the other kids around. That said, she has a very assertive personality – not to mention is very physically strong. Every time I try to high five her, she tries (and succeeds) to hit my hand so hard that it near breaks my bones. Then she clenches my hand in her fist like it’s a bro-shake, and my poor fingers get close to breaking. And believe me, I’ve tried to stop the high fives…but when a grade four kid raises their hand for one, I can’t just leave them hanging. Le sigh, personal ethics.
My co-teachers call Stable “innocent” and “pure”, though I don’t think I really appreciated what they meant until recently.
Every day at lunch, she comes to my table to talk to me. This usually happens whilst I’m in mid-spoon-slurp, and she so consistently surprises me that I manage to slop some soup on myself every time. Normally she then stands there and stares at me. When the silence becomes too long and awkward, I try asking different questions.
“Did you have a good lunch?”
Points to belly. “Was it delicious?”
“Om nom nom, good?”
Squinty eyed silence. (Not sure if that’s judgemental or not on her part).
Usually there’s a 3-5 minute silence before she speaks, then she’ll ask a co-teacher to translate. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t (on the logic that she should try her best without help). Eventually she takes off, though all we manage to exchange is a:
Me: “Hello, how are you?”
Stable: “I’m good/so-so/bad/hungry/angry.”
Me: “Oh that’s good. Me too.”
Lately though she’s been coming to my office after school. The conversation tends to go the same as the lunch hour one, especially since I’m alone in my office with no co-teachers to translate.
This particular day though, I had the idea that I could get her to type into Google Translate (the magical genius web tool that it is) to facilitate our conversation. I know this is bad teaching, getting kids to use a machine to work out the answers instead of forcing them to recall what knowledge they have, but after a few months of her desperately struggling to string some sentences together, I thought it would make a nice end-of-year break for her to be able to communicate with me one-on-one.
She was confused at first, but after I demonstrated, she caught on. So she wrote me this:
선생님 그동한 공부를 가르쳐 주셔서 감사합니다 언제 까지 여기에 있으실지 모르지만 앞으로 건강하시고 오래오래 공부를 가르쳐 주시면 좋을것 같아요 선생님 사랑해요
The study teacher teaching geudong Thanks for whether you’d be here forever, but healthy and long studied in the future I think we need a teacher to teach us love