Nationwide outbreak, MERS

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome: MERS, it’s been the talk all over South Korea. For the past few weeks, all I’ve seen is coverage and talk about MERS. Between the unexpected calls to not come in to work last minute, to parents threatening to get refunds for their children missing out on schooling, and putting together a curriculum to cover two weeks of material that were missed in the next 3 Saturdays, to say it’s been crazy is an absolute understatement. Taking well over 200 kids’ temperature at the front door of our school, to making sure we sanitize everything we touch, to wearing masks and finding out the sales have increased 700 percent since the news about outbreak, it’s been a little nuts in this small country.

Parents are sending their kids with packets and packets of masks, and hand sanitizers so frequently that children seem to just all think its second nature to using the bathrooms. It’s been quite scary, but I’ve been fortunate that so far to not have any close contact with anyone spreading this disease, even if it seems all the coverage and news seems to be in my backyard…quite literally. And although you try and stay covered and stay indoors as much as possible, it is almost impossible to stay in your apartment for weeks at a time! Working ten hour shifts on a Saturday does, really…suck! and we’re only one down. However, I suppose parents expect their kids to get their money’s worth. As you can see, my 6 year old kids were coming to school with their masks in tact, full force and ready for gym time.
Teaching has had its big big ups and downs in the last few weeks. I am finding out more every day the politics of it all. And although there are many many days that it makes it difficult to get out of bed, the rewards seem to outweigh the cons…so far. When I see just how excited my tigers get (each pre-k kids are sorted into rooms and are labeled according by class until they move on up in the next semester) making hamburgers out of clay and and holding them up so we can create memories and have them in the classroom, it really does touch your heart. I’ve certainly bonded more and some less with the 7 students from the beginning of the semester up until now.

There are a few kids like Kyungjoo who will grow up to be a guys’ guy. He plays and breathes everything a guy does. He doesn’t say a whole lot to anyone really, started off very very timid speaking in front of the class, but now raises his hand and even goes around and helps students without wanting any recognition. Oh and his dimples work wonders on all the teachers when he smiles…definitely the two young girls in my class. I’ve now seen him casually walk and erase the white board when I’m working with a student on the other side of the class so that it’s ready for the next page of phonics to go over, he’ll come and while the other children are giving me hugs and asking to sit on my lap, he’ll notice the bottom of my shirt button undone and fasten it for me and quickly walk back to his seat and wait. He also has found the confidence now to take the initiative and help other students who may need a certain color crayon, or pick something up if their pencil and eraser falls to the floor. Mark my words, he will grow up to be a heartbreaker! The most popular kid in the class and is as nice and normal as can be…for a 6 year old. However, mature beyond his years!

Then there’s kids like Gilbert who nudges me every day and makes me want to have a child just like him. He is the sweetest and although hasn’t caught on as quickly as the other children, constantly rushes through his coloring so he can ask, “may I sit on your lap Ms. Katie?” because he knows I can’t resist the way he nuzzles and holds on to me like my own kid might. He also runs every morning up to me to hold my hand and say good morning. And every afternoon while his friends are sitting waiting for lunch to be served, he runs out of the classroom as I am walking away to walk me to the “teacher’s lounge” before he turns around and goes back to the tigers class.

My two girls..Connie and Lily are the most polar opposite girls on the face of the planet forced to play and fight with each other because the third student, Olivia has taken some time off of school. Connie, is incredibly sweet and smart, her ability to pick up English has been tremendous and so fun to watch. However, coming from a very well to do family (almost every student comes from wealthy homes because our school requires a minimum income level for parents before they can be tested and brought on to the school) she is little miss princess. Quite literally. She has some form of pink on every day and there’s never a moment she doesn’t come up and ask me “pretty, this miss katie?” Her parents, love her. I mean REALLY love and dote and spoil her. And while she is much quicker in language abilities over Lily, she has a lot to learn about compassion and just other human beings existing outside of her hahaha. She is as sweet as can be, and I don’t know that I’ve ever met any child who is so strong willed and stubborn and emotional. (My mom says, that was me growing up!) :T

Lily, she is a true tomboy to a T. She comes to school wearing her older sisters shoes that are two sizes too big for her and announce she’s coming about 10 minutes before she arrives at her destination. And she has been struggling since the first day of instruction learning the morning routine I do with the kids every day that consists of questions like:

“Good morning, Tigers, How are you? What day is today? What’s the weather like? And what should we wear for today’s weather?”

However, lately, she seems to be comprehending so much more than she was before and is making great efforts to understand me, often asking the student next to her three to four times before starting something on her own. And today I heard her tell our new students who are twin boys and do not speak any English, “Sean and Jayden, no Korean, please speak English” which was both amusing and incredibly encouraging as a teacher who’s been working with these student for the past four months.

I have a tremendous soft spot for Alex! He has been one of those students who doesn’t say much, but observes and feels tremendously. He is one of the tallest students and has always been a little rough around the edges. However, underneath all that boy, is this incredibly sweet, humble and shy young boy who wants to excel and feels too much emotionally that it sometimes gets in the way of really digging into his true potential. So it’s been challenging to bond with Alex sometimes only because he was always and still is more interested in playing with the boys and building legos than bonding with his lame English teacher, Katie. 🙂

A few days ago, I was having such a difficult time focusing at school. I’ve finally hit past the three months mark and was missing home so much, so much so that I know my younger kids definitely noticed the lack of attention and bonding that was happening during the morning. And as every morning we do our good morning exercises, the normally shy Alex who never comes around willingly, approached me before gym time and uttered the exact words I needed to hear, to confirm that these students really feel not just a bonding connection with me, but in the truest and purest emotional connection only a teacher has with her students:

“Ms. Katieeeee…?”

me: “Yes, Alex…please get in line so we can go to the gym”

Alex: “Ms. Katieee..”

“Yes, Alex?”

“How are you?”

Such simple words that probably wouldn’t mean much any other day, however this six year old boy who took the time to ask made my heart just crumble right then and there! Before having to walk into the gym and run around and be rambunctious with them for the next 40 minutes, I had to compose myself so I didn’t smother the kid with hugs and hide him in my pocket to take him home to the land of single Katie’s whose heart strings and biological clock keeps going haywire being around these sometimes stressful and frustrating but often very loving children.

It’s moments like these that I find myself really forgetting all the awful and very stressful situations I am in sometimes as a foreigner in a different country expecting me to be a native, a teacher in an English school with expectations from kids, young kids below the grade level of 4th graders who are expected and held up to very high expectations to become an English speaking genius. And it’s moments like these that make me entertain the possibilities to maybe think about extending my contract to follow these kids…entertain the thought. I’ll have to revisit this entry in exactly eight months to see how I feel then. And it makes these moments that make me realize how quickly I’ve gotten attached to these children and how difficult it’s going to be to leave once my contract is over. But I suppose I have plenty of time to think that over.

As you can see and hear in the video, Alex is saying something that I clearly don’t understand, but at this point, it really didn’t matter much.

I haven’t had a chance to travel much lately for obvious reasons, however in about four weeks will be leaving for Boracay in the Philippines for a weeks vacation for summer break semi by myself..but I figure I moved across the other side of the world for a year, it can’t be THAT bad for just five days right? I hope to get some good pictures hoping the weather will permit and come back relaxed, refreshed and ready to start another session. So anyone who’s been or know anything about Boracay, please feel free to throw ideas and advice 🙂 (That means you Julie !!! )

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