Condense my first month as a Fulbright ETA into something shorter than a small novel to capture the the changes, adaptations, triumphs and struggles of my time here? Challenge ACCEPTED!!! Everything I want to share can be condensed into 3 points: adjusting expectations, one day at a time and share your passions. Pick and choose 🙂
Adjusting expectations: I have come to realize an important lesson. This is a learning experience. Even with a 6 week orientation, I have much to learn about Korea. No amount of training could have prepared me for my specific situation and that’s okay. Every ETA experience is different, so I feel lucky to have received a general run-through of Korean history, culture and language. ! I’m learning how to learn and am laughing over my adventures and misadventures. It’s me saying, “This is me. I’m not perfect, but I do my best. When I do make mistakes, I am willing to make it better, but do so without a heavy heart. I own my mistakes and with a smile on my face 😀
Example of humbling mistake #1: okay, so every day after lunch I have 30 minutes of English/Korean conversation with my co-workers. one daywe had coffee from Vietnam. Sounded pretty good. Tasted amazing as well!! Then, someone mentioned “squirrel”. I asked, “not a real squirrel, right?” There were laughs and “no, squirrel!!” After I finished my coffee, I looked up the translation of the coffee:다람쥐 배설물. Yeah, no squirrel. Just squirrel DUNG. Squirrel dung coffee!!! hahaahaaaa, Could not stop laughing in my office. lolol! So that’s how I came to discover squirrel dung coffee! Sometimes, you have to laugh at these surprise moments in life. #lostintranslation
One day at a time: No one achieved success overnight. It takes work. No matter where you are in the world, I hope that you remember this and can translate this into your own life experience. Sometimes, it’s easy to visualize an end goal, but the process between point A and point B is blurred. Focus in on how you hope to achieve your goals and readjust your approach when necessary. In terms of teaching, I quickly learned this lesson. Here, at Yuchon Elementary, I have 21 classes weekly K-6th grade. Each class is unique and special. Ultimately, the approach I take with my kindergartners needs to be different from that of my 6th graders. However, in the beginning, I struggled finding out how to judge the level of my students and to adapt my teaching to my students.
The younger students needed more active and shorter activity spans, while the older students needed more talking time and needed me to speak more quickly (Boy, was I surprised when I was asked to speak faster!) Throughout this process of trial and error, of discovering what works best for my students, I have found myself reaching out to my co-teachers for advice. This has enabled me to bond with my co-teachers and to better know my students. I love the energy of my students and each day brings its challenges but we are all in this together. On the days where I struggle I put myself in my students’ shoes. Maybe I had a hard time with classroom discipline in club classes? Hmmm, solution, physical activity.
Share your passions: In the beginning, I had viewed my involvement in my school and community in terms of cultural and language study. However, I am realizing that my experience here is worth so much more than mere language exchange. I am an ambassador for my country and I am able to inspire my school community. This experience is entirely up to me. It is what I make of it and I have the liberty to be involved in a plethora of different activities.
What kinds of activities??? I am currently on a badminton team here at my school. I also conduct a daily English/Korean coffee time with my co-workers. It’s 50-50. Half English and half Korean. and have grown to really love this break in my day where I can appreciate my fellow teachers for who they are (beyond their role as teachers). I am teaching an ESL yoga class for the staff at my school and hope to impart the tenets of meditation, flexibility, strength, confidence and harmony (both internal and external) in my school and local community.
Extracurriculars: In my free time, I enjoy running in the mornings to grrett the day and the beautiful mountains of Yuchon. One goal that I have is to participate in my first ever marathon in Seoul with some other ETAs here in Korea. I also study Korean every day and spend some quality time with my host family. I have 3 little host sisters, a host grandmother, father and mother. They are soo loving and welcoming. I immediately felt like a part of their family. We have been to a Dalgalbi festival together, a soccer game, went shopping together and searched for chestnuts in order to make chocolate chip chestnut cookies. The BEST fusion of American and Korean culture! I hope that my experience will be as rich and amazing as those cookies were. Nothing tastes quite as sweet and enriching as growth. Growth in oneself and growth in a community. Being empowered to make a difference and paying it forward.
*(Pictures to follow…when I can get internet at home 😛 …)