Tuesday, March 03, 2009

OFF TO A...slow...start

The Korean school year officially opened on Monday, March 2nd, so I dusted off the suit and tie (has it really been THAT long?) and got all doll'd up for my first day. I was totally prepped for a full day of meeting teachers, being introduced to the students at the assembly, observing some classes... and I was late.

Soon Yung, my co-teacher, called me at 8:45. "Where are you?" I was across the street from school, literally. At the crosswalk. (School starts, for me, at 9am.) "We're having a teacher's meeting now. Please hurry up." So I upped my pace. I got inside the front door and took off my shoes by the foot lockers, looking for an empty spot. They all had Korean characters on them, so I assumed they were assigned to people, but I didn't see my name and I was in a hurry. I threw my shoes into an open locker and put on my cheap soccer sandals. I hiked up the stairs to the English lab, where every teacher in the school was gathered behind the glass doors. The vice principal was speaking, and a teacher pushed open the doors for me. I tiptoed inside, bowed towards the principal at the front of the room, and made eye contact with Soon Yung. "Go inside our office," she whispered for no reason. Everyone was watching and listening. I went inside our office, which adjoins the lab, and stood there, out of sight. Five minutes later the VP's stream of Korean stopped. "Jonathan..." I heard Soon Yung whisper from the lab. I walked out, and stood next to the VP as he introduced me to the group. "Introduce yourself," he said after he was done, so I repeated my name, told them I was from Virginia, and that I was honored to be there with all of them. When I was done, Soon Yung motioned back towards the office. I had apparently done my duty.

After the teacher's meeting broke up, Soon Yung came in to take me to the assembly, where all of the students were gathered for their opening ceremonies. I stood with the rest of the teachers around the edges of the room, and one of the younger English teachers (I first thought she was fresh out from the university. I later found out she is 31) stood beside me. She had a lot of questions for me, she said, and she pulled out a worksheet with scribbles all over it. "What does it mean to say 'one-ish'?" "Can I say twelve-ish? How do I spell that?" She asked me more questions while the VP spoke, then the principal. "He talks a lot," she said. Then time for introductions. Soon Yung told me to follow the rest of the new teachers onto the stage. "The VP will probably want to introduce you." So I followed, and a murmur rose as I walked up on stage. Kids craned their necks to see me. The VP went down the list of about 15 new teachers, with each garnering some applause. Some were apparently very popular - from what I could tell it was based entirely on their good looks, since they were supposedly new to the school and the students. When the VP got to the end of the list he looked around him, and someone nudged him and pointed at me. He had forgotten my introduction. My name wasn't on his list. So he called out my name, and I bowed, and the kids cheered heartily. Exit stage left.

By 10:30am all of the excitement was over, and I was back at my desk in the office, sipping instant coffee. The IT guy hooked up my laptop and I fiddled around with the language settings until I figured out it was the Korean version of Windows and I couldn't change it to English. I had lunch in the cafeteria with Soon Yung and a handful of other teachers, before the students arrived. Sweet and sour pork, lotus flower root, rice, beef broth soup. Then back in the office for the rest of the day. Facebook is my friend.

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