Just like every other country in the world these days, South Koreans have been unhappy with their President. In typical Korean fashion, they did something proactive to change it. Today, the Koreans impeached President Park.
Backtracking a little, today was my first day at the Youdeng elementary school. Chris had called my co-teacher, Mr. Park, and had arranged for Mr. Park to pick me up at 8:10 AM. I lost track of time (per usual) and got picked up at 8:12 AM, expressing my sincere apologies for being late. He said it was fine and introduced me to the 3 rugrats in the back; they were his kids. We picked up a 4th one on the drive. He told me that these were 4 of the 18-total students that attend Youdeng.
Mr. Park speaks very good English and is easy to connect with. On the ride to school, we talked about hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. He told me that I would teach 4 (40-minute) classes in the morning, eat lunch, and spend the rest of the workday on lesson planning. He also said that if I wanted him to, he would arrange some of the school’s “sports days” for Friday afternoons so that I could join in on the field trips and explore the nearby mountains with the Youdeng family. This was an “offer” that I’m more than happy to oblige to!!
When we arrived at Youdeng, we went to teachers’ lounge, and about a dozen other teachers sat at the middle table with us for about 20 minutes. There were 2 large containers of strawberries and chocolate goodies in the middle, which they must’ve brought to celebrate my first day. They asked me the typical questions: “Are you married?” and “How old are you?” and “Where are you from?” Mr. Park was particularly intrigued about Minnesota and had already known about the “land of 10,000 lakes;” he proceeded to show me pictures of the houses on Lake Minnetonka and told me it was on his bucket list.
I’d just shovel food into my mouth every time the other teachers went on a tangent conversation in Korean. Doing this was a win-win-win. First, I didn’t make them feel bad by awkwardly sitting there. Second, turning away things that Koreans offer you “makes them hurt on the inside” because it makes them feel like they failed at helping you… seriously, the Korean culture is that sweet-natured 🙂 Lastly, I was able to inhale expensive strawberries and sweets guilt-free, and I was starving because I had missed breakfast.
Despite only having 18 students, the school is large and modern. My classroom has computers for every student, a large flat-screen TV, and multiple chalkboards and whiteboards to write on. The colorful and clean environment is designed to create a haven and make kids look forward to coming to school. It certainly makes me look forward to coming to school because I’m given the tools I need to succeed in an ideally positive fashion.
The best part about the school is the kids, though; they are soo much more well-behaved than the students at Ssangchi were yesterday. Mr. Park sits in on all of my classes to translate, so that makes teaching English to the younger ones a lot easier, too. Every native teacher in the Korean school system rotates schools every 3 years, and Mr. Park had taught at Ssangchi for 3 years prior to Youdeng, so he gave me some classroom management tips. He also told me that I was hired to make English fun for the students by playing games and doing new activities; the Korean school system is rigorous, and it’s the native teachers’ job to do all of the lesson drilling.
My last class is the 3rd grade and has 1 little girl, Mr. Park’s daughter. Imagine tutoring a child and having their parent sit-in the whole time. Thank God Mr. Park is an enjoyable character, or this would be even more difficult.
About 20 minutes before class ended, Mr. Park’s phone went off, and he looked extremely startled and ran out of class. I sat there for 10 minutes after class had ended, wondering what I was supposed to be doing – was Mr. Park going to come back for me?
Thankfully, he did come back, and he seemed energized. “Time to celebrate! We just impeached our President, finally,” he said. On the walk to lunch, he explained that President Park was a horrible speaker and didn’t seem very smart, “like Trump,” and nobody understood how she got to power.
President Park was South Korea’s first female leader. Her father was a dictator that ran the country for 18 years during a time that South Korea experienced a lot of economic prosperity, so all of the elderly people supported her, but the younger generation didn’t want her in power. They highly value democracy, especially after what’s been happening in the North. She was caught giving confidential government information to her best friend, who used the information for business gains, and somehow, one the Samsung heirs was involved; so, she was impeached for corruption.
At lunch, the teachers were so completely riled up and happy that they weren’t as cognisant of my inability to join in on the conversation quite as much as they were earlier in the day. After the nutritionally delicious meal of rice, freshly-baked sweet potatoes, vegetables, and some mix of omelet-cakes, we went to the teachers’ lounge. Everyone was engaged in the giant, flat-screen TV turned on to the news channel.
The teachers took turns brushing their teeth at the sink in the lounge. I didn’t notice that they were doing this until someone told me it was my turn. I said, “Shucks, I forgot my toothbrush today!” Like I usually bring my toothbrush everywhere I go. They gave me a fresh toothbrush and toothpaste package in a hard plastic gift box to keep at the school. Later, someone told me that it’s Korean custom to brush one’s teeth after every meal because there is a lot of garlic in Korean dishes.
Then, I went to the bathroom and noticed the kids’ toothbrushes.
After I brushed my teeth, Mr. Park told me I could go home because I didn’t teach any more classes and could do lesson planning at home, and the rest of the day would be a little hectic. He walked me to the bus stop and waved goodbye, saying, “See you next week! 8:12 AM!”
Per usual, an elderly person on the bus noticed that I was a foreigner and asked me where I was going so that they could make sure I got off at the right stop 🙂
Not per usual, the bus radio was on, and it was blaring political news. Everyone seemed just a little more energized. I thought of what the karaoke bars and the streets (yes, you can drink on the streets in Korea) were going to be like tonight. Despite all of the lesson planning that I should be doing, I think I’m going to celebrate with the Koreans tonight. Most importantly, I’m going to drink away the realization that I just walked away from one election and walked into another. Soju, you da real MVP.