Wednesday, February 19, 2014

School updates: 6th grade graduation and language barrier

6th Grade Graduation

The sixth graders had their graduation ceremony on Monday, and I almost missed the whole thing. I knew they were graduating on Monday, but I didn't know any details apart from that. The talkative, funny 3rd grade teacher had made a joke last week, asking me if I had a suit to wear for the graduation ceremony, and then telling me to buy a Korean suit to wear. So I knew we were supposed to dress up, but my co-teacher didn't say anything about this to me on Friday.  

I still dressed up in not-so-warm nice clothes, even though I was getting a cold and was not told by anyone that I needed to dress up. I had seen a message from the school's messenger program with the time 14:30 in it, so I thought the graduation ceremony would be in the afternoon. My co-teacher and I were up in the office working all morning. She left a few times, and when she came back in around 10:45, she said "The ceremony started about 15 minutes ago," to make small talk.

What?! It was going on right now?!  "I didn't realize it was right now," I said. My co-teacher said that she told me it was today, thinking I had accused her of not telling me about the ceremony at all. "No, I knew it was today, I just didn't realize it was in the morning. I thought it would be in the afternoon."

"Oh, are your 6th grade graduation ceremonies in the afternoon in the USA?" she wondered. No, we don't have 6th grade graduation ceremonies...

And then I left to take a peek, while she stayed working in the office. The ceremony was in our cafeteria, so I went in the open doors in the back and stood against the back wall behind some parents. I was surprised how much talking there was in the back and along the seated family side section; some parents were even on phone calls in the cafeteria.

Left side of the cafeteria with sitting families

The kids all wore black graduation gowns and caps.

6th grade graduation in Korea

At the end, all the students left the building and just like that they were gone. Poof. I will never see them again, and I don't have pictures of them either. I hadn't realized that our one class in February was the very last time I would see all of the 6th graders. So it was sudden and I felt unimportant for not needing to be involved in any part of the ceremony, whereas all the other teachers wore name tags and were either sitting up front or walking around monitoring in back. (My co-teacher had come back down again near the end of the ceremony to help with something else.)  Not how I expected graduation day to go down.

I went back to the office after the ceremony was done, and then at 11:30 my co-teacher said all the teachers/staff were going out for Shabu-shabu lunch since the lunchroom was closed. I really like shabu-shabu and I think the school (principal or VP) paid for it, so that was a nice surprise.

At the end of the day, my co-teacher said that not many teachers would be in tomorrow, so I could take vacation if I wanted and stay home. I didn't want to use a vacation day that I'm saving for the summer, so I said I'd still come in.

Tuesday's Lunch

On Tuesday morning a teacher (preschool, I think?) came in my office a few times to put some new textbooks in here. (Before my co-teacher and I moved our desks to this room, it was only storage for the younger grades: textbooks and project supplies. Now it's both storage and our office.)  She doesn't speak English, but said "sorry" when she left one time, and then "finished!" when she left after dropping off the last set of books. So she knew I was in the building.

She came back around 11:40 and asked me something in Korean, then said the word "lunch"?  I had brought a lunch with me today, like I did during the entire winter break, but if she was going somewhere or ordering with others, I would do that. I understood from her hand signals that they were going to eat downstairs. Then I heard bibimbap, which is a Korean dish. We were going to eat bibimbap? Where was the food coming from? I just said "nay" (yes) a few times.

Then I realized she had proposed a question, to choose between x and bibimbap - so my "yes" wasn't cutting it! I obviously didn't recognize x from the first time she said it, so I answered "bibimbap".  Then it looked like she was about to head out, but I had so many unanswered questions, one of which was when.

So I asked "When?" and pointed to my wrist as if I wore a watch. She said "call" or "phone", which I think meant she would call my office when it was time. And then she left. So she'd call when it was time for what, I wasn't sure. Were we walking somewhere like on Monday? Would I need to change into my shoes before going down? Or were they calling in an order, and we'd eat downstairs somewhere?

I realized that since she'd needed to know what I wanted ahead of time, it was logical that they were calling in an order. Normally lunch time is at 12:10, so when the clock struck 12:17 and still nothing, I was wondering if I'd made the whole thing up. I just kept waiting for the phone to ring.

And then I heard footsteps down the hall. Someone knocked on my door. It was a 6th grade teacher. He said "Let's eat" or "Let's go" or something, so I quickly got up and followed him down the hall. He seemed to be in a rush, and when we got to the stairs he practically ran down them, leaving me behind. He saw something when we got downstairs and he dashed down the hall and around the corner. Was I supposed to run too? I took a few faster strides, then slowed down when I turned the corner and could see what was going on.

A delivery man had just arrived, and the 6th grade teacher wanted to pay before the others got to it. So I walked down the hall, then into the office where they all were and watched as he tried and tried to pay, but the preschool teacher who had been in my office earlier was successful in paying the whole thing.

They told me to sit down, and set out the food. And then it was my usual silence during an all-Korean speaking lunch, but I enjoyed the meal, despite the usual quick speed of eating. Then at the end, I guess they were talking about me, but I wasn't sure what they were saying.  I thought they said I'm always here, every day, making a comment about how I'm here during the school breaks or something (these four teachers were the only others that had come that day).

Meanwhile I was prepping to offer to pay for my meal (even though I knew they would decline), so I took out my wallet and didn't realize they were already trying to tell me something. So I asked "How much?" in Korean, and apparently the preschool teacher thought I asked "when?" whatever they were talking about would happen. She said 4:30. You downstairs. And then she made a driving motion with her hands. Wait, was she offering to drive me home? I live too close, that's silly, so my first words were "No, that's ok." which would be a normal response in an English-speaking location. I should have chosen better words though, because she heard "OK", and nodded and smiled, and I think she thought she was driving me home after work or something.

Later I remembered the goodbye dinner was tonight for the teachers changing schools (teachers in Korea change schools every 2 - 5 years).  I told my co-teacher I wasn't going to go when she asked late last week, since it was somewhere in a nearby city and I didn't want to mess with trying to get there via public transport or finding a ride. I'm glad I'd said no, as I didn't know I'd be fighting off a cold that day. So it clicked that maybe the preschool teacher was offering to give me a ride from school to the dinner? I'll never know.

I had some letters to mail after school, so I stopped by the post office before making my way home as normal.

If there's any point to this lunch story apart from school updates, it would be this: Communication can happen when two people speak different languages, and miscommunication can also easily take place. Picture a regular lunch with coworkers in your home country. You wouldn't think twice about it. Now picture it through the eyes of a foreigner who doesn't speak your language. They may be silent, but I bet their mind is racing with thoughts and observations - at least mine always is. Lately the language barrier has become increasingly frustrating at work, and this is a tiny, tiny example of how it comes into play even at lunch - not even teaching/work. I feel like I'm jumping around with thoughts here, maybe I'll revisit the topic later.
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  1. So what happened at 4:30?? P.S. I totally had a 6th grade graduation--it took place in a church.

    1. I left school without trying to find that teacher... went to the post office then walked home. :)