A crescendo of wailing voices and thunderous feet rumbled down the corridor, wrenching his attentions away from the computer screen.
He stared disbelievingly at the classroom door as it burst open, giving way to a rowdy 5th grade class who bombed in and took their seats, textbooks open, faces smiling and bright eyes staring in expectation at a very confused Irish person.
Unfortunately that person was yours truly.
Fortunately, I had my introductory lesson prepped and just decided to roll with it. About 20 minutes in, my mentor Ms. Jang showed up and pulled the plug, apologizing for the mix-up as she ushered the students back out through the door.
Panic over. But I think I handled that curveball quite well.
Adapting to last moment surprises is something that any ESL teacher in Korean will have to become accustomed to. It comes with the territory.
A few days after this surprise, Ms. Jang greeted me early one morning at the entrance to the English classroom.
“Today, we’ll welcoming Jim”
“What’s that? We’re welcoming Jim? Jim who?”
“Welcome, in the gym. Whole school”
“Ahh, ok. Welcome for me? Whole school you say?”
“Do I have to speak?”
“Yes, little bit. On stage”
“Ohhkay, eh, thanks for telling me!”
No sooner than she had walked off, I scrambled to quickly google and rehearse a 2-minute spiel, half-Korean, half-English, half-arsed.
I took the stage and blew them all away to rapturous applause, and in the ecstasy of the moment I launched a running stage-dive on to the sea of little hands that carried me aloft and out through the door while the Principal gleefully blasted champagne in people’s faces like a crazed firefighter dueling a dragon.
OK, so perhaps they weren’t that amazed, but I did alright.
Unfortunately, since then my Korean language skills have been limited to ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’. All my efforts on learning apps and online podcasts have improved my vocab and grammar knowledge yet I remain a mute, gagged by a lack of confidence, my tongue is tied with doubt.
The words are there, but I just can’t seem to get them out. It’s like my mind is a library but the doors are locked.
So, in a conscious effort to improve, I set myself a mission. To use a new phrase each day, starting with the teachers room in the morning.
For weeks, I had wanted to offer the omnipresent vice-principal a coffee in the morning, and speak his lingo to break the silence, if only for a moment. Before I knew it my chance came along.
I arrived a little early, he was there, alone, and he had no coffee cup in front of him as he pored over his computer, his brow furrowed in focus.
Raising his eyes for a brief moment, he nodded in acknowledgement of my presence, drawing my verbal response…
“Kyo-cam sunsingnim anyeonghaseyo” (hello vice-principal)
I strolled to the kettle, the hamsters running the show up above pushed open the library doors and found what I was looking for.
“Kopi taseillyo?” (would you like a coffee?)
Stunned, he turned with a smile. Nodded and said “nae!!” (yes)
Awesome, this was going well. I poured the coffee and took his to the desk, gently setting it down within arm’s reach.
He thanked me.
I was feeling confident.
So I took it one step further.
“Jam-shi-man-yo!”, I said, cool as a cucumber.
He looked at me, slightly confused.
Doubt kidnapped my mind immediately. I felt the library door in my mind close with an almighty bang as the hamsters were sent crashing against their wheel.
My mind went blank.
I walked away leaving him hanging, his confused expression awkwardly frozen upon his face.
“What did I just say?”
It took me and Google a minute to figure it out….
Chun-man-eyo – You’re welcome
Jam-shi-man-yo – Just a moment please…
As I write this, I wonder is he still waiting….