I have many fond memories of my time here in Korea so far. My students are precious people that make me smile and laugh and carry me through each day. I admit that on Sundays, I dread going to work the next day--the next week, even. But in reality, that dread comes only from my working hours. For, when I walk in my classroom at 7 am to a class full of tired students who are eager to learn English, I wake up to reality again and find joy in this work.
Teaching English to English language learners is the best job I ever could have asked for. God knew this years ago, but it was something I never imagined for myself. I also never imagined that I would be in Asia. Of all of the countries I ever wanted to visit, no country in Asia was on my list. But where am I spending this year of my life? Korea. And I have no regrets, despite all of the hardships and regular fatigue.
And so now, before I forget the many memories that have been multiplying in my mind, I want to record some of them.
I think that "the ability to read minds" should be a job requirement listed for this field. English students, especially lower level ones, struggle to communicate with the little vocabulary that they have. Their sentence structure is amusing, and their word choices are even moreso. One night recently during vespers, a Level 1 student named Fiona was talking about one of her favorite foods at the park. She called it "sweet cloud." I thought on this for a while and, with the pastor's further description, came to the conclusion that she was speaking of cotton candy. I liked her name for it better. ^^
I have a number of businessmen in my 7am Level 2 class. One of them, Kevin, used to intimidate me, when he was Liberty's student. He would always arrive 15 minutes early for class and wouldn't say a word. Then he became my student. He's always wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase, and is always very early for class. He usually beats me to the school. My intimidation didn't last long, however. It turned out that he has a cute sense of humor and really wants to learn English. When talking about hobbies (or not), he always tells people how much he loves to read classic books and play screen golf. "My nickname is Kevin Woods (pronounced -oods because Koreans struggle with the w sound) because I can longer anyone else." One other time he said something like, "because I longer-shooter anyone." (Translation: "I can hit the ball farther than anyone else that I play with.") He speaks so confidently, which makes me happy because a lot of Koreans are shy when they speak English and you have to drag sentences out of them. Recently I gave Kevin a really low score on his pronunciation test, and he was upset. Then it came time for my students to evaluate me as their teacher. He announced before the class, "Even you give me low score, I give you good score." I laughed and said, "Thank you." Then a few days after my students had evaluated me, they had term projects, and I gave them their grades the next day. He passed with a 3.0, which is average. He saw his score and exclaimed, "Averagy! But I gave you good score!" All the students laughed at him on his way out of the class. Usually he's teasing, but sometimes I wonder how much of his teasing is a cover-up.
Pronunciation can also be entertaining. This morning, my Level 2 class of four women were talking about household appliances. Coffee is very popular in Korea, even more than in the States, I believe. There are multiple coffee houses on every street. The ladies began talking about a coffee maker and then started saying a word that I didn't recognize . . . "capture." I sat there pondering what they could possibly be talking about so that I could correct their sentences, but I just didn't know. Finally, I turned to one student and asked, "What is a capture?" They all tried to explain it to me, but, not being a coffee drinker, I just couldn't understand. So, they repeated the word over and over again until I realized what they were saying. "Do you mean c-a-p-s-u-l-e?" I spelled it out. "Yes!!!" So I walked up to the board and showed them that they were saying "capture" instead of "capsule." We all got a good laugh out of that. We've gotten better ones than that, though. I wish I had written them all down.
Another thing about Koreans is their attraction to Westerners'. They know all of the American actors and actresses and simply adore them, and when they see us foreigners, they begin to compare us to actors and actresses. I've been told that I look like several different actresses since being here, but I disagree entirely. What is cute, though, are the experiences I've had with kids. Once I got in the elevator to go back home, and a young girl and her mother were going down as well. The mother said something to the girl in Korean, and I just waited silently to get to the first floor. When the door was about to open, the little girl looked up at me and said, "She says you're beautiful." Then the door opened, and they walked out.
Yesterday, I was having difficulty with my favorite junior class. They're getting older and harder to control. In the midst of handling a situation, one of the girls named Jenny turned to Dana and said something in Korean. I heard my name mentioned as well. Korean is strictly forbidden in my class, so I stopped what I was doing and asked her what she had said. She looked to Dana to help her translate. "She said that your eyes are beautiful."
With the foreboding of war about to start again between the Koreas, our class ended with these 10-year-olds telling me, "Teacher! Tomorrow missile boom! And then we all die."Then they proceeded to act out how this would happen. Of course, they were giggling the whole time and another girl made sure I knew that "It is a joke from the north." Young, innocent children. Although I too am not concerned about the current situation, I couldn't help but think about what could happen to these children. I have gotten attached to them, and to think of them giggling and happy one day and on the verge of death another was painful. I hope they will never have to experience such danger....
My religion class has really been difficult this term, particularly at the beginning. Satan has not wanted God's name to be glorified, so there have been a lot of questions to answer that are difficult to answer with the language barrier and their little-to-no knowledge of the Bible. But then a friend gave me the idea to pray in each students' seat before class, so I started doing that. Immediately I noticed a difference. They received the message and understood, and even though they still asked difficult questions, God gave me the answers--once even through a cartoon that I drew to illustrate repentance.
On one of my last days with my two Bible students, we went out for lunch after the study, as was our habit, and we talked for hours. Eventually, happiness was brought up. "I don't really know any Korean who is happy--truly happy," Hailey said. "But you, Christen, I think you are happy." Neo added with emphasis, "Yes! And the pastor and Errol and Vickey looked truly happy too." "And every time I go to SDA, even if I am having a bad day and don't want to go anywhere, I feel better once I go to class. It makes me happy," said Hailey. And Neo added, "Yeah, for me too! I go to class in the morning and then have a wonderful rest of the day, but weekends are terrible!" "What is it that makes Christen and the others happy?" Hailey wondered. She was determined to figure it out, and I didn't get the chance to speak. Quickly she came to the conclusion, "I think it's because she and the pastor and Errol and Vickey believe in God. I think if you can have a deep belief in something without doubting, you can be truly happy. But I don't believe in God," she said. Well, she says that now, but I know God is working on her heart and Neo's as well. This conversation encouraged my heart so much because I often feel like a broken vessel ministering to my students. Another religion class student has told me a similar thing, though. She has attended religion classes at SDA for two years. She says that she always has a sense of peace and happiness when she attends these classes, but the term breaks are always terrible when she is waiting for religion class to start again. "We're afraid that when you leave, there won't be a religion class anymore. So don't go!" she told me.
A few weeks ago one of my older friends who is a mother asked me to join her for tea. As soon as I met her in the coffee shop downstairs, she said, "Tell me about your life with God." She is not a Christian, but she wanted to know why I am. We are told in the Bible to always be ready to give an account for the hope that is within us, and though I was thrown off guard by her question, God gave me the words. After that she said that she would start reading the Bible again. I don't know if she has yet, though.
I am so thankful to see God working here in Korea. Sometimes I get frustrated. Many times I am tired. Oftentimes I tend to get discouraged. But it is moments like these that cheer my way and help me to press on.
Lately I've gone hiking with students and to lunch with others, and it's just wonderful to get to know these dear people outside of the classroom. Koreans are so friendly and giving and they just want to be loved. Don't we all? I'm going to be sad to leave this place, whenever that day comes.
Every night I give my Korean secretary Sophie a hug on my way out. We have nicknames for each other. I sometimes call her my Sophie, teddy bear, Grandma, or pink panda. She's five years older than me. She only has one nickname for me: "my lovely green turtle." This is because my green coat that I've worn every day for the last five or six months looks like a turtle shell. A few weeks ago she was going through something, and she asked me to pray for her. I said I would pray with her, and at first she said she was too shy and wouldn't be able to understand a prayer in English, but I made it simple, and she started to cry. God is working on her heart too.