I never pictured myself teaching elementary school children. Most of those who know me were likely shocked when they heard I was to be an English teacher for small children. "Erin, children? Really?" But I've grown to love it, despite the occasional bad lunch and smelly classroom. One thing in particular never fails to brighten up my day.
Sharing is an intrinsic part of Korean culture, something anyone who has sat down to a proper Korean meal will realize. Small gifts, usual snacks, are commonplace. The classroom is no exception to this cultural trait. My students love to share with me, whether it's a small piece of candy or a bite from the partially-nibbled tubed ham they happen to be snacking on. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been offered partially chewed upon cookies, but the thought is still sweet. I've received numerous drawings, slips of papers saying they love me, small cookies, candies, stickers, and even vitamins.
|Found this on my desk during Winter Camp. From a lovely little 1st grade girl.|
These little tokens are usually offered out of the grubby palm of a 4th grader and it presents me with a sanitary dilemma. Kids love to stick their fingers up their nose, in their mouth, back up their nose, into other people's noses, and highly dislike washing their hands. This is not an assumption, but a fact based on extensive observation. When presented with a vitamin chew from a starry-eyed 6th sixth grader, I graciously accept the gift and place it on my desk, making it seem I will save it for a later occasion. To the extensive illnesses I've caught while working down at the 초 등학교 (cho dung hakyo), I cannot risk ingesting the precious presents given to me by my adoring students. Regardless of the fact that I cannot enjoy most of these gifts, their generosity and sincerity always lifts my spirits, even if they have sunk into the depths of "squid and dried fish for lunch" depression. I've fallen into the habit of depositing each snack into the middle drawer of my filing cabinet, which now bursts a rainbow plethora of sugary snacks and Konglish notes. I only have to slide it open to remember why I am here in Korea, and that people here really do care.
|Translation: Wavy hair hair shop. Erin Teacher I love you. From one of my 4th graders, Miss Yu Bin.|
Never underestimate the meaning of a half-eaten cookie.