“I’m awake at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning,” should never be the words out of someone’s (well, my) mouth.
Alas, there I was this a.m., blurry-eyed and droopy-tailed, waiting for our teeny-boppers to roll out of bed and into their last-minute 8 a.m. volleyball practice.
Surprise! I’m a “Parent”!
As of late, I have been smacked with a deeper appreciation for my parents, since I am now awkwardly some semblance of one…to one hundred 14-16 year-old girls. The students we are responsible for are…well, I’m not quite sure yet. It’s only been 2 weeks on campus with our little women. Of course they are inquisitive, hopeful, cheeky, sassy, thoughtful, and hard-working, but I don’t really know them well enough to properly describe them at this moment in time. The teensy tiny neon-coloured elephant on campus, Language Barrier, keeps yanking back the rope on the “get to know you” process. The girls in our building have a wide range of English skills – candy for a linguistics nerd. Understandably they prefer to speak their mother tongues, Korean and Chinese, instead of the school’s mandatory “language of inclusion”, English. It is harder to convince the girls to use without the doom of being graded. Thus, it is near impossible to have an edge when we’ve caught them sneaking around past lights out, or groaning to each other when asked about homework.
As a multi-lingual individual, I can empathize. It is exhausting (as well as exciting) to think, feel, and express oneself in a foreign language. I have not (yet!) had to do it for an extended period of time, however I can imagine. Many people who speak more than one language will say they feel as though they are a different person, or altered version of themselves when using another language to communicate. I have discussed this with countless friends and students who identify with this scenario. Some delight in the possibilities of shedding an old skin and developing a new one to add to their Self. Others feel restrained and saddened by the change. Recently, this topic surfaced during a conversation with my boyfriend. He grew up overseas and speaks several languages, English being his third. He expressed how wonderful it felt to have someone speak with him in the language he used growing up in school. I could hear the relief and joy in his voice as he recounted the interaction. Finally he could communicate in a manner that fit part of his personality, a part of his whole Self, that he doesn’t get to most days at work, me, or in other daily interactions. He explained to me that the semantics of the language they spoke in was more direct, forward, and to the point. If he were to speak the same words in the language we share, he would be misunderstood as blunt or rude. I might not recognize him, there is such a noticeable difference.
I have the utmost respect for people who need to learn the language to survive in a new country. Interacting with 100 teenage girls whose mother tongue I barely have scraped the surface of, has been a little frustrating. I want to get to know and understand them so that I can assist them. This also happens to be my job. However, I’m in a unique position because despite having moved to a new country that isn’t English-speaking to work, it isn’t imperative for my survival here to learn Korean. Life/Work (there is no separation of these) is bubble-wrapped. The majority of teachers and those in positions of power at this school are anglophones from around the world. Employees who aren’t anglophones speak English and students are required to speak it in class. In the residence the rule is that you speak English, but we’re not quite there. I feel bad “enforcing” it and haven’t yet found an effective way to motivate students to practice their English. I hope that as I earn their trust and respect that they will practice more. It is a tricky line to walk, especially as a guest, and one I am aware of at all times.
On another, happy, note, there have not yet been any jailbreaks (ie. girls escaping to visit friends after lights out). I had a couple of wonderful chats with girls who had questions but stayed for conversation. I must say, it finally felt worthwhile being here.
Thanks for reading! 🙂Tags: Jeju, South Korea