THE KOREA KRONICLES, PART VIII: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

IMG_0019I have never had a nosebleed. Nope, not one. I say this because a lot of people find that little tidbit about me really interesting. “You mean you’ve never had a nosebleed?,” people ask. “Not even once?” I know, crazy right? I’m not sure about this, but maybe nosebleeds are like flammable flatus. Only about a third of humans have the bacterial cultures and genetic background necessary to produce methane-rich farts. And, yes, before you ask, farts are indeed flammable if they contain methane. That said, it’s not advisable for you to attempt to light your body’s natural gas on fire: if it does catch, it burns faster than it can exit your body and can burn your intestine (or so I’ve been told). True or not, it’s enough to make me not really want to try it as that’s an injury I’d be mortifyingly embarrassed to explain to an emergency room doctor.

But, I digress. So far, I’ve had three nosebleeds in my classes. No, I don’t mean that I‘ve had nosebleeds, I mean two students have had nosebleeds in my classes. I’m sure they’re a fairly common thing, but both times I’ve strugglex to keep my composure. It’s not that I’m squeamish at the sight of blood or anything, it’s just that when blood starts emanating from a region of the body where (in my mind) it isn’t supposed to emanate, my initial impulse is to panic and overreact. One day a few weeks ago, I was teaching in the Family Center (a classroom that looks and is furnished like a studio apartment) and was nearing the end of my lesson when a I noticed a crimson flow begin in the nose of a larger boy sitting on the far left. We hurried to the bathroom where I showed him how to roll tissue into tight little wads and shove them up his nose to stem the flow–I’m not sure if that’s what you’re supposed to do, but it seemed logical in my mind. It worked, in any case, and he was fine after a few minutes. I also suppose that’s part of what comes with growing up: learning to find your way through difficult or unfamiliar problems using the right balance of instinct and best judgment.

Spring RosesIn other news, I’ve now passed my three-month mark. When I arrived in Korea, it was cold and windy, I’d only taught kids twice or thrice before in my life, and I’d never before lived in a foreign country. Now it’s warm and sunny, the spring blossoms have bloomed and been replaced by deep green leaves, and I’ve grown quite adept at managing and teaching a classroom of kids who are seldom good at speaking my language. What I always hope for are kids who are as good at English as I am in Spanish: not quite fluent, but proficient enough to carry on conversation. Most of the time, the students are a little lower than that. Occasionally, they’re much higher and we can carry on full conversations. Then, at other times, they’re so low I have to mime everything I say. Most of the Korean I know is classroom management stuff like “Hajima!,” (“Stop that!”), “Yeh dura!” (“Listen to me!”), “Aniyo!” (No!”), and “Ya!” (“Hey!”), and not useful for teaching English. Versatility is something I’ve definitely honed my skills in.

While the time feels like it’s passed very quickly, at the same time I also feel as though I’ve been here quite a long time. Most of that is because I’ve found a nice routine that works well for me. I’ve since been joined by two college friends, David and Alyssa, and changes coming down the pipe have me excited for the months to come. For one, we’ll be moving to new dorm-apartments in July. The new living facilities will be separate from the kids’ dorms on the other side of the campus, which will be a nice change because, let’s be real,  these kids don’t shower the whole time they’re here and I’m not excited about summer body odor. Sometimes, by Thursday, the kids smell so rank that I’m not above saying, “Take a shower tonight, kids. You stink.” People just need to hear it like it is at times.

Telling the Kids GoodbyeSomething else I’ve had to learn how to deal with constructively is crying. Much as I assume kids anywhere can be, Korean kids are sometimes viciously cruel to one another in the things they say. Add to the mix the fact that many of them stay away from home for the first time when they come to the English Village and the inescapable craziness that comes prepackaged with a weeklong camp of any sort and some kids just feel a little overwhelmed. Some of them also cry when they leave the Village because they don’t really want to leave; leaving means back to school and saying goodbye to new friends and to the crazy American teachers who pronounce their names funny. My problem is that I’m an empathetic crier. Anytime I see someone crying, my instant natural reaction is to tear up too. That’s really frustrating when you’re trying to keep a student calm or assure him or her that everything is, in fact, okay.

One afternoon several weeks ago, a little girl who’d chosen the English name “Lisa” came to my seventh period poetry class on a Wednesday. I always try to learn the kids’ names at the beginning of class and when I called Lisa’s name, she meekly raised her hand and I could tell right away she was on the verge of losing it. Blundering instantly to action, I blurted, “Oh, sweetie, is everything okay?” No sooner had the words left my mouth than she’d broken down completely and the tears were flowing. Then, I could feel my eyes welling up and as I hurried through the rest of the names on the roll sheet, I was saying to myself, “Dammit, Roy-Gene. Don’t you cry too.” As soon as I’d finished calling roll, I quickly turned to the board and told the kids write some notes in their books as I quickly and (hopefully) inconspicuously brushed my eyes dry. As the students were doing this, I sat down next to Lisa, gave her a big hug, told her all was well, and helped her with her passport. That act alone did wonders and by the end of class she was laughing and having a blast playing games. I hope to be forgiven for my pride, but I’m really proud of my newfound ability to handle things like that. Hashtag: winning.

I’ve recently begun feeling the urge to go somewhere again. I’m not sure when it will happen, but soon I’m wanting to finally visit Busan and maybe Seoul. I’m not restless, just comfortable enough in my knowledge of how things work in Korea to feel ready to venture out. One thing I can say for certain is that coming to Korea has only whetted my appetite for living abroad. Much as I initially thought I might like to stay here for more than a year, I’m realizing there’s just too much I want to see and do for me to not go somewhere else when my contract ends. Who knows where I’ll go; my options are even wider open now than they were before I left the States. I’m leaning heavily toward taking the test for consideration as a Foreign Service Officer this fall in Seoul or I might teach somewhere else. In any case, that’ll do it for now. A new group of kids will roll into camp tomorrow morning and I should probably start now making copies for my classes. Peace, yo.

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3 thoughts on “THE KOREA KRONICLES, PART VIII: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

  1. Pingback: THE KOREA KRONICLES: Seoul Patrol | Roygeneable

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