Archive for October, 2012

Languages, Languages, Languages

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Languages are the corner stone to any society and culture. Each language has its own unique mindset and thought process which makes learning new languages fun, yet at the same time very frustrating. However, there is a misconception of learning new languages, especially by Americans, which is learning new languages it too hard and is an impossible task. It is amazing to me how many people overseas are at least bilingual and many educated people can speak English fluently. During the past couple of weeks I have encountered two instances, or “ah-ha” moments about the perception of languages, more specifically the English language. I recently took a weekend in Morocco’s capital city Rabat to visit the various sites like the beach and zoo. A couple of friends and I booked into hostel for the night (first hostel experience!) and during my stay I met a German student, Jacob, who was traveling through Morocco for a holiday. Like me, he was a student in, as he put it, the “Islamic Sciences” and was very well educated. During our first conversation the topic of languages came up and I asked Jacob if English was difficult for him to learn; the reason I asked this question was due to the notion that I have always thought that English was a difficult language to learn so I was interested in the German’s opinion. According to Jacob, English was very easy (which was a blow to my American pride). The way Jacob explained it was that English, unlike German and most languages around the world, do not have traits such as case endings and genders (German has 3 genders in its language which is crazy to say the least). That made me think on how English has permeated itself through globalization and how English is somewhat of a universal language with most of the educated population knowing English around the world.

The Second instance of me being “schooled” by a foreigner on his languages skills was on a Monday when I was on the campus of Moulay Ismail studying my Arabic. I saw a Moroccan friend, Fatima, on a balcony waiting for a class to start. She saw me and waved me over and asked if I wanted to join her and sit in on the class. I thought that would be an interesting experience so I obliged. I picked up a few words here and there from the professor (he was speaking in a mix of dialect and French, neither of which I know very well at this point and time) but the overall concept of the class was basic computer stuff. For example, what binary code is, what a modem is, etc.. After the class, we went and sat down in the professor’s café along with another friend from ISA, Colin, and another Moroccan student. It is worthy to note that of all the Moroccan students I have met, Fatima has to be my favorite. What I like about her is that, other than the fact that she is extremely nice and a pleasure spending time with, she goes out of her way in explaining Arabic to me. Unlike other Moroccan students who wouldn’t bother helping you and only wanted to talk to you because you’re a native English speaker, she doesn’t mind going over a packet from Arabic class going over the rules and concepts of the Arabic language. Now, going back to the café, it was Colin and I and a few Moroccan students talking about languages. There was one student in particular, Omar, who was practically fluent in English and again I had to ask: “was English difficult to learn?” and again the answer was no. The explanation that came with his answer was that essentially it’s up to the individual to learn a language. The classroom helps but the emersion and the daily usage really solidifies how a person learns a language.

My conclusion was Americans have a hard time learning other languages, is because English is the main language spoken in the country. There are obvious exceptions like your location (in Texas and Florida there might be a little bit more Spanish spoken and maybe in the Northeast a little French influence). But overall the stress of knowing multiple languages is usually during the period of life when young adults are entering the job market for the first time. It should be stressed much earlier, like when a person is 3-5 years old. Anyways this is just an observation of not how the English language is easy (because it’s really not there are very little rules and patterns to go by and pronunciation is ridiculous for none native speakers) but that foreign language in the United States isn’t stressed enough, and that is a issue that needs to be addressed especially with globalization and the connectivity of foreign markets.

Languages, Languages, Languages

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Languages are the corner stone to any society and culture. Each language has its own unique mindset and thought process which makes learning new languages fun, yet at the same time very frustrating. However, there is a misconception of learning new languages, especially by Americans, which is learning new languages it too hard and is an impossible task. It is amazing to me how many people overseas are at least bilingual and many educated people can speak English fluently. During the past couple of weeks I have encountered two instances, or “ah-ha” moments about the perception of languages, more specifically the English language. I recently took a weekend in Morocco’s capital city Rabat to visit the various sites like the beach and zoo. A couple of friends and I booked into hostel for the night (first hostel experience!) and during my stay I met a German student, Jacob, who was traveling through Morocco for a holiday. Like me, he was a student in, as he put it, the “Islamic Sciences” and was very well educated. During our first conversation the topic of languages came up and I asked Jacob if English was difficult for him to learn; the reason I asked this question was due to the notion that I have always thought that English was a difficult language to learn so I was interested in the German’s opinion. According to Jacob, English was very easy (which was a blow to my American pride). The way Jacob explained it was that English, unlike German and most languages around the world, do not have traits such as case endings and genders (German has 3 genders in its language which is crazy to say the least). That made me think on how English has permeated itself through globalization and how English is somewhat of a universal language with most of the educated population knowing English around the world.

The Second instance of me being “schooled” by a foreigner on his languages skills was on a Monday when I was on the campus of Moulay Ismail studying my Arabic. I saw a Moroccan friend, Fatima, on a balcony waiting for a class to start. She saw me and waved me over and asked if I wanted to join her and sit in on the class. I thought that would be an interesting experience so I obliged. I picked up a few words here and there from the professor (he was speaking in a mix of dialect and French, neither of which I know very well at this point and time) but the overall concept of the class was basic computer stuff. For example, what binary code is, what a modem is, etc.. After the class, we went and sat down in the professor’s café along with another friend from ISA, Colin, and another Moroccan student. It is worthy to note that of all the Moroccan students I have met, Fatima has to be my favorite. What I like about her is that, other than the fact that she is extremely nice and a pleasure spending time with, she goes out of her way in explaining Arabic to me. Unlike other Moroccan students who wouldn’t bother helping you and only wanted to talk to you because you’re a native English speaker, she doesn’t mind going over a packet from Arabic class going over the rules and concepts of the Arabic language. Now, going back to the café, it was Colin and I and a few Moroccan students talking about languages. There was one student in particular, Omar, who was practically fluent in English and again I had to ask: “was English difficult to learn?” and again the answer was no. The explanation that came with his answer was that essentially it’s up to the individual to learn a language. The classroom helps but the emersion and the daily usage really solidifies how a person learns a language.

My conclusion was Americans have a hard time learning other languages, is because English is the main language spoken in the country. There are obvious exceptions like your location (in Texas and Florida there might be a little bit more Spanish spoken and maybe in the Northeast a little French influence). But overall the stress of knowing multiple languages is usually during the period of life when young adults are entering the job market for the first time. It should be stressed much earlier, like when a person is 3-5 years old. Anyways this is just an observation of not how the English language is easy (because it’s really not there are very little rules and patterns to go by and pronunciation is ridiculous for none native speakers) but that foreign language in the United States isn’t stressed enough, and that is a issue that needs to be addressed especially with globalization and the connectivity of foreign markets.

Scissors

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

OVER GENERALIZATION ALERT: I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about being a first grade girl that brings out the need to be constantly concerned with appearance. The second grade girls aren’t nearly as bad. My first grade girls like to put on lotion, put on foundation, use mirrors, glue their eyelids back (not exaggerating, this happens), and comb their hair all during class. When I ask students if they can pay attention while staring at themselves in the mirror they unashamedly say yes. When I ask students who they’re trying to impress, as it’s a gender-segregated school and they have no free time anyway, they just look depressed.

The boys can also be pretty bad, but it’s a different sort. The first few weeks of class there’s always a few who stand up in the middle of my lectures and walk to the mirror in the back of the class and check out their profiles, patting down their sideburns until they notice me staring at them and they meekly slink back into their seats. After week two I have no more problems with the male students and their beauty regimen.

But the girls. The girls. Shake your head. Fluff your hair. Flatten down your bangs. Frown at yourself. Pin back your bangs. Apply foundation. Put lotion on your hands. Stare at your cuticles. Squint at yourself in the mirror. Look at your eyes. Poke at your eyelashes. Pop a pimple. Reposition your bangs. Take your comb. Comb your hair. Focus heavily on your bangs. Put on your glasses. Make a face. Take off your glasses. Make a face. “Sneakily” get the girl three rows over to throw her lotion at you. Put more lotion on your hands. Look in the mirror. Make a face.

Now. I appreciate that they’re trying to make themselves look good. I remember being a super awkward high school sophomore myself. I have no issues with people taking pride in their appearance and trying to maintain it – but when you do it to the exclusion of everything else, that’s when we start to have problems.

I have confiscated so many bottles of lotion, combs and mirrors (even broken a few by accident) that I could open my own secondhand store  The other day I confiscated my first ever pair of scissors, because a girl was cutting her own hair in the middle of my lecture.

As frustrating as this is, today when I was cutting up papers for my club class and I used my confiscated pair, I did feel oddly victorious. There’s something quite beautiful about taking the same pair of scissors that served as a distraction and using it to create education materials to benefit those same students.

Plus hey! Free scissors.

The Party Bus

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Today I taught 2.9 (all boys, second grade), and at the end of it I told them to have a great field trip. As I had told class 2.5 that I would probably see them on their trip on Friday and they shrieked in despair (thanks guys, thanks for that) I didn’t feel the need to be shot down by more high school boys so I didn’t mention anything about seeing them there. As I packed up to leave, a student shouted out “but wait, teacher! You’re on our bus.”

“Wait. What? Bus?”
“LOOK AT THE PAPER!” The students shrieked as another student rushed forward, jabbing his finger at the bulletin board.
I looked, and yes, sandwiched between a bunch of 2.9 students is my name. They put me, heaven knows why, and my rockstar co-teacher, on the 2.9 bus. I looked at them and smiled and said “yay” and the room suddenly turned into a crazy moshpit of second grade boys screaming at the top of their lungs “EMILY TEACHER IS ON OUR BUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.”

Friday should be interesting, to say the least.

A Weekend in Dublin

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
A rip roarin’ good time! Lots of photos, so click to read on!
  • My first flight while being abroad. We left on Thursday evening and flew on RyanAir which made me nervous, but aside from being free from many of the frills I’m used to on flights (no seat pockets, no assigned seats — just hop on!), it was pretty stress free and easy. We took a cab to the airport since there were three of us flying and we had a great cab driver who gave us Dublin advice.
  • Once we took a bus from the airport and made it into the city… there was a lot of wandering as it was nearly 10 at this time and no where had a mad cheaper than 10 euro which I was no about to pay. After some wandering and Laura remembering that our hostel was supposed to be behind the customs house… so we found the custom’s house and eventually made it to Isaac’s hostel. Isaac’s put the Dover Backpackers hostel to shame. The Dover hostel was like staying at your awkward friend’s dirty house. Isaac’s was like a young adult traveler playground! There was a dining hall, a sauna, a games room, vending machines (that sold cans of beer!) — the works! Kevin checked us in and was wearing an Adventure Time t-shirt (one of my favorite shows) so we got along quite well. He drew all over our free(!) Dublin map and told us what places to avoid, what pubs to hit, etc. 
  • Since we were all tired from travelling and wanted to be alert for a full day of sightseeing the next day, Kevin pointed us in the direction of a local Irish pub that would play traditional music, called the Celt. The music was FANTASTIC. We met some older German men who were here for the big Ireland v. Germany football game, had a beer, checked out the locals (I think everyone is Ireland is magically good looking, I don’t get it!), then headed home in time for bed at midnight.
     
  • For our first full day, we took advantage of the free walking tour our hostel offers daily, which lasted three hours, had free coffee and tea, and gave us a hilarious tour guide. Paul, our tour guide, talked about Dublin like his annoying little brother who he loved, but teased mercilessly — but if you teased Dublin he’d kick your ass. He dropped the f-bomb many a time, had plenty of puns, and really knew his facts! 
  • The first stop was Dublin Castle, which is really not what you’d think of as a castle at all, since now it’s mostly just executive buildings… Fun to walk through and take pics, not worth sticking around and taking a tour.

    Above: Lady Justice, whose scales are apparently often crooked due to the rainfall in Dublin… whomp whomp.

    Above: There’s the last original structure remaining from the castle. 
  • Just outside the Castle is Dubh Linn Gardens. I loved the stone paths in the grass. Really pretty!

    Above: Behind me is the library with the second largest collection of Qur’ans in the world! …who knew?

    Above: Here’s the gardens, me being all excited, and Dublin Castle in the background.
  • Next stop: Christ Church Cathedral. We didn’t go in, since it was a walking tour, and also because the esteemed Andrew Butterworth (a trusted member of the ASE staff) said it was a pretty shit cathedral (not exactly his words…). Still, Tour Guide Paul told us some fun facts and stories, including that there is a dead cat and rat on display inside that was once found in the organ…not sure if it’s true, but I’m content with the fun story.

  • Then we went to the least exciting landmark in Dublin (though it was helpful in orienting oneself around the city): The Spire! It cost 5 million Euro (if I recall correctly — essentially, a huge chunk of money) to build… and no one really likes it. Plus, according to Paul, Dublin is the heroin capital  of Europe… so good thing they put up a giant needle in the middle of the city!
     
  • Trinity College was our next stop. Really beautiful campus, of course. Trinity College also has an exhibit on the Book of Kells, and illuminated manuscript of the gospel made by Celtic monks around 800. We went back to Trinity College the next day to see this exhibit, as well as the long room of the library that was supposedly the inspiration for the Jedi library? No pictures allowed, of course.
     
  • Our last tour stop was St. Stephen’s Green, which was a lovely park. There was also a wedding going on while we were there! And as is common in all of Dublin, there were plenty of statues.

     
  • We spent an hour or so at the National Museum of Ireland which had tons and tons of cool old artifacts… AND BOG BODIES!!!!!!! The bog bodies were the coolest. Grossly and fascinatingly well preserved in the bogs of Ireland.
     
  • To continue the theme of STATUES STATUES AND MORE STATUES! we of course went to go see Molly Malone — or as our cab driver told us, the tart with a cart, a nickname I find rather amusing!
     
  • Our final tourist sight of the day was Merrion Square — again, statues upon statues upon statues!

    Above: Me and my man, Oscar Wilde. Happy birthday, bud!
     
  • That night, the four of us decided to experience the nightlife of Dublin. Our hostel offers a pub crawl which we decided to do and it was a great deal! They took us to five different pubs/clubs, gave us free drinks at each stop, and it was a GREAT way to meet other travelling students and young adults.

    Above: Me and my free half-pint of Guinness! Yumyum Irish tradition. Apparently the cheapest beer in Ireland… makes sense!

    Above: Here’s some French guy, a girl we met from DC named Natascha, and then me, Caitlin, Laura, and Gabe in the back!
  • The next and last day, Saturday, our friend Alex met up with us and we showed him around some of the sights we’d already seen, and also stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We were going to go inside this one… but there was no way in. There was a HUGE graduation going on, so perhaps that’s why it was closed. Still, it took us to a new part of town where I found a neat independent artist’s shop and bought myself a souvenir map!

    Above: what the souvenir I bought looks like. Can’t wait to frame and hang it!

    Above: Outside of St. Patrick’s cathedral. Even if we didn’t see inside… still worth a photo op!
  • We finished our last day with a lot of exploring of Temple Bar, seeing the Book of Kells, and doing a LOT of walking. We caught a bus to the airport at six to head back to Bath, and on our way we saw a rainbow! What a perfect way to end our trip to Dublin. I LOVED the city — it had so much personality and reminded me a lot of New Orleans, though parts of it looked EXACTLY like Washington, D.C. I would definitely go back!

Student Profile: Solomon the Writer

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

You know, I really can’t believe that I haven’t talked all that much in this blog about Solomon. Solomon is the perfect student – at least, in English class. He pays attention, he asks additional questions, he’s participatory without excluding other students, he helps fill in students that are falling behind, and he thinks critically about whatever task you give him. Compared to most of his classmates, (2.5), he has to be one of the most down-to-earth, serious students I’ve ever taught. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t have a sense of humor, but compared to most of the other male students I teach, he’s much more interested in having a deep conversation with me about the education system, or issues in Korea, or anything really, than joking around.

I’ve mentioned him twice before on this blog, one time was interacting with him and some of his classmates on Sports Day, and the other in my blog post talking about my letter exchanges with students.

Today I was in the office studying Korean when he came up to me. He gave me a book, all in Korean, that had two pages bookmarked. It turns out that Solomon, apart from being a high school student, is now a published author. I asked if this publication was for students and apparently it’s not – he’s the only student in it. I think I embarrassed him by how congratulatory I was. I then asked if I could borrow the book to read it (and practice translating) and he said that it was a present for me. I got really quiet, my eyes got really wide, and I burst into a gigantic smile, probably scaring him half to death and kept repeating some combination of “thank you” and “congratulations” and “wow” and “I’m so excited to read this!” until he slowly backed out of the office, with a smile on this face.

It’s absolutely amazing that he was published, don’t get me wrong. I’ll comment on that more when I’ve actually sat down with a dictionary and poured through his three pieces. What really gets me though is that he wanted to share his work with me, work that he’s done that’s impressive, but also completely unrelated to English. He didn’t give one to all of his subject teachers, because his main English teacher didn’t receive one – she borrowed my copy to read it. He made a deliberate decision to give a copy of his work, which is pretty advanced Korean, to the Native English teacher. He even wrote my name in this copy and signed it.

My goal is to have at least one essay read by Friday so that I can barrage him with questions at the school trip. I’ll have to play this by ear, as I don’t want to embarrass him in front of all of his classmates, but he should be proud of his work. Argh my heart. I am so ridiculously excited to read this.

October 5, 2012

Monday, October 15th, 2012

I made some unexpected friends today. It all started as a desperate grocery shopping trip. I was starving and we had absolutely no food left in the apartment, literally the only thing left was some salt, pepper and a tub of moldy rice. It was one of those BIG shopping trips where you have to buy everything, they are always so overwhelming. I walked to the store with my flat mate and as we were loading up on groceries I just smiled at one of the woman that was working to restock the shelves. She smiled back and we struck up a conversation. She was an extremely motherly figure. Asking me if I missed my parents, when I would see them again, how I was liking my time in Cape Town so far, advising me on what food to buy and asking if she could help me with anything while I am here. Her name is Jackie, or as her friends affectionately call her, “Jackie Chan.” She proceeded to introduce me to all of her friends that work in the supermarket. They were all so friendly and insisted that I come back on a Friday during their lunch break so that we could go and play pool together across the street.

That was a few months ago and today I finally had the time to play pool with them. It was so much fun. They taught me some cool pool shots and they even on occasion let me beat them. After two hours of playing pool their lunch break was over but they got my number and invited me to a brai (South African barbeque) in November. I can’t wait. Now whenever I need to go grocery shopping I try to go when they are working. I am beginning to feel a part of the community.

My story for today doesn’t end there though. After my time playing pool I had to stop by a different grocery store to pick up my concert ticket. As I was waiting in line I noticed an extremely feeble old man with only two teeth. He was sitting by himself, looking lonely. I smiled at him and he smiled back. He asked me if I knew how old he was. I guessed seventy-five; he laughed and told me that he is ninety-two. Incredible. After I got my ticket I went and sat next to him because he told me he had a story to tell me. He proceeded to tell me about his experiences in World War II and the Apartheid, retelling his stories was so emotional for him that he was moved to tears. He spent an hour telling me all about his life, I was enamored. It is amazing how you can learn from anyone, no matter what their age is. I’ve spent a lot of time studying World War II and Apartheid, but to have someone who lived through both of those times relaying their personal stories was priceless.

It is amazing how a something as simple as a smile can form a connection with a complete stranger. I hope to see the grocery store ladies soon and maybe if I am lucky I will see the World War II veteran too.

 

Abroad in Beijing 2012-10-15 00:03:35

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Archive available here.

First Abroad Baking Attempt: Raspberry Nanaimo Bars

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Me! The chef! Hard at work… in my PJs.

I found out a few things today during my baking adventure: 

  • Things are measured weird here. I knew that… but this was my first encounter with weighing butter.
  • Some things just don’t exist in this country. You know why they don’t have s’mores in the UK? Because they don’t have graham crackers! I asked an employee who replied uncertainly with “Creme biscuits?” Nope… These were the closest thing I could find, and they served quite well!
  • Plenty of things DO exist here… but are called weird names. This time involved me attempting to find powdered sugar and wandering up and down the baking aisle. I asked another employee who pointed me in the direction of caster sugar which I knew wasn’t quite right… Eventually I deduced that my best bet was the “icing” sugar, although it was boxed so I couldn’t be sure. But I Nancy Drew’d correctly.

And here’s the recipe for the delicious raspberry Nanaimo bars, courtesy of sugarhero.com:

Bottom Layer:

1/4 cup (2 ounces) butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup seedless raspberry puree*
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups graham cracker wafers
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Place the butter in a medium saucepan, and place it over medium heat until melted. Add the sugar, cocoa powder and raspberry puree and stir until smooth and well-combined. Add the egg and take the pan off the heat, stirring constantly to incorporate the egg. Once the mixture thickens, stir in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Scrape the mixture into a 9×9 pan lined with aluminum foil, and firmly press it into an even layer.

Middle Layer

1/4 cup (2 ounces) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup seedless raspberry puree*
3 tbsp instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups powdered sugar

Cream the butter in a stand mixer. Add the puree, pudding mix, and powdered sugar and beat for several minutes until fluffy and light. Spread the raspberry cream over the bottom layer and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Top Layer

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp cream
1 tbsp seedless raspberry puree*
*To make seedless raspberry puree, blend fresh or defrosted frozen raspberries and pour them through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds.

Place the chocolate, cream, and puree in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds and stir. If the chocolate is not fully melted, microwave for an additional 15 seconds and stir until melted. Pour the chocolate over the raspberry cream and smooth it into a thin, even layer. Place the bars in the refrigerator until the top layer is set, about 20 minutes.

YUM!!! Took a little extra work, but the results were delicious. One of my favorite recipes, though I’ve traditionally done a mint version.

Opening Doors

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Well. I started off my day by getting locked inside my apartment.

I honestly don’t know how it happened. Two other ETAs who were visiting Gwangju crashed at my apartment and when I left at 6 am to walk them to the bus stop we didn’t have any problems with the lock. However, after going back to sleep, waking up late, and rushing to throw on makeup and change clothes I somehow had locked myself in. My apartment’s pretty old, there’s no keypad lock and we didn’t get CCTV until this past semester, but I have two big intimidating locks. The bottom one I can lock with my key and the top one is a pretty secure deadbolt. The deadbolt was the one that wouldn’t budge.

I rattled the deadbolt back and forth and it was not moving at all. Starting to freak out a little because I teach first period, and thinking that maybe it was jammed, I slammed my shoulder against the door a few times, which did absolutely nothing because I’m really not that strong. I only succeeded in completely waking myself up. I attempted the lock for a few more minutes before calling my rockstar co-teacher and fully aware of how ridiculous a situation this was, told her that I’d probably be late because I was locked in my apartment.

“Wait. Locked inside your apartment?”
“Yeah. I can’t leave. The lock isn’t budging.”
“Um. Let me call someone.”

Of course as soon as I hang up, smooth as butter, the lock clicks open and I’m able to leave. I call my co-teacher, but I don’t get to her in time and she’s already informed Awesome Mr. Kim, who happens to be not only one of my co-teachers but also the second grade 부장 AND one of my neighbors. Upon arriving to school about ten minutes before my first class, we rush off to the second grade office and talk to Mr. Kim who proceeds to discuss the situation with me loudly and publicly. I decide to roll with it, with all of the second grade teachers listening in.

“Emily! You must have been so frightened.”
“Not frightened, just worried I would be late. If I was locked out maybe I’d be frightened, but I have heat and food inside my apartment so I would’ve been fine for a few days.”
“It’s a good thing you had a cellphone so you could call us. What would you have done if you didn’t have a cellphone?”
“I probably would’ve stood on my balcony and yelled for help until someone arrived.”

All-in-all it worked itself out, and it’s nice to know people care about me, but it was pretty embarrassing and I’m a bit concerned about the lock. Some school officials are heading over to look at it today. Thank goodness I just cleaned my apartment!

One thing I’ve been working on is connecting more with other teachers at school, and appearing approachable. I’m rather proud to say that I’ve been able to make pretty solid friends at school both within and outside of the English department. We don’t have very many female teachers, so the female teachers that we do have are very supportive of each other. Last semester three new young female teachers all the same time started working at CPHS, and all of them had pretty good English. One’s a German teacher, one’s a science teacher, and one’s a Korean teacher. I like them all, but the Korean teacher has been especially nice to me. We eat lunch together a lot, and speak half in English and half in Korean and help each other with our respective languages.

The Korean teacher told me in passing that she has a ping pong game against the Music teacher tomorrow. I assumed that she meant they were casually playing in our school’s auditorium/gym. Oh how wrong I was.

Apparently this is a legitimate thing at our school. The Korean teacher was approached by another teacher and told to try playing with the CPHS teacher’s ping pong team. She asked me if I wanted to go with her after lunch to see the ping pong room and I said sure, not really knowing what to expect.

In order to properly picture this, you have to understand the layout of the main school building. If you look at the main building from the soccer field, you’ll notice that the first floor is raised up. In order to get to the first floor hallway, you have to walk up a short set of stairs. The ground behind our school slopes down, which makes the difference between the ground and the first floor even greater. The area under the school, the “basement” (even though it’s not underground) is open except for a few supporting pillars here and there, and the ceiling is high enough that you can easily walk under it. Further towards the center of the building are some offices. Down there is where the printer’s office is, the female teacher’s lounge (which I found out about halfway through last year), the boy’s convenience store, and the ping pong room.

We wandered through the open hallway and opened one of the doors to the sound of plastic balls swishing back and forth. The pingpong room was divided into two by a sheer green curtain, against which ping pong balls were raining. There were two ping pong tables, one on each side of the curtain, and teachers dressed in athletic clothes playing ping pong. They all stopped, looked at us, laughed, and kept playing. Other than the music teacher who was trying but failing to keep the ball on the table, we were the only female teachers, and the only teachers under thirty five. Every single other teacher in there was was an older male teacher.

A teacher, one I’ve never talked to before, came over and asked in Korean if I wanted to play. I looked at him and stammered that I couldn’t play well. He handed me a paddle and showed me how to hold it. Now, I’ve played ping pong before and while I’m not great, I can hit the ball. With the new penhold grip he was teaching me, I could barely hit anything. He was lecturing me in Korean and moving me around while I was standing there laughing and trying to follow as best I could.

The bell that signaled the end of the lunch period rang, and I thanked him and said that I had to run because I had a class. He said goodbye, looked me dead in the eye and told me to come back tomorrow. Never mind the fact that tomorrow I actually don’t have to come to school because I have no classes, I’m coming to school specifically for ping pong. If doing ping pong with older male teachers that don’t speak a lick of English helps me bond with some of the teachers, then I’m going to do it.

It’s all about creating opportunities and opening doors.