Monday, 31 August 2009

First Day at Bunam Middle School

My co-teacher, Mrs. Jeon, picked me up outside our house to leave for school at 8:00. As we drove off, I felt like I should be getting nervous. But I wasn’t. I was so excited that it completely overpowered any trace feelings of nervousness in my body.

Mrs. Jeon and I talked about life, the universe, and everything as we rocketed up and over the mountains towards Bunam. The best way that I can describe Korean driving is as such: Do you remember when you were a kid flying around a winding racetrack in a go-kart? Well, it’s like that, but a bajillion times more dangerous. It seemed as though the lines in the roads were simply for decoration, and the signs were merely suggestions. I’m not saying that she was a bad driver. She was just really, really…adventurous.

Korean drivers seem to rely a hell of a lot on their instincts. My “spidy-sense” was tingling non-stop, but she seemed perfectly at ease flying around a left-hand turn in the left (oncoming) lane without being able to see if anyone was coming. If I were to die at any point during the trip, at least it would be quick.

As we approached our final destination, she pointed into the distance at a series of concrete buildings surrounded by farmers’ fields.

“There’s your school,” she said. “Beautiful, yes?” she continued.

The school was EXACTLY the way I pictured it would be: A small cluster of concrete buildings, a dirt playground, apple orchards on either side, and a single South Korean flag waving proudly over the front entrance.

We pulled up to the gate, drove across the dirt playground, and parked beside the flag. As I got out of the car, the first thing I noticed was how many pairs of eyeballs had just appeared in the windows. Initially, it was a little unnerving, but seconds later I saw who the eyeballs belonged to as students poured out of the buildings to take a closer look. Some were brave enough to shout “Hello!” but most continued to stare as I walked with Mrs. Jeon into the main building.

I asked her how many students attended the school, and she gave me a little smile and said, “You have six students in middle school one (grade 7), three for middle school two (grade 8), and nine for middle school three (grade 9).”

“Eighteen students total? In the whole school?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “We also have a technical high school for computer technicians and auto mechanics, so you will also teach them English as an extra-curricular activity. But they don’t have books, so we just want you to play games, talk, and if you can, make them talk.”

It was 8:30. We had arrived just in time for the weekly teachers meeting. We were the last to arrive, so once again I had the pleasure of being “oogled” by a large group of Koreans. It was slightly intimidating to be standing there in front of my new co-workers, but their smiles and attempts at speaking a few English greetings put me right at ease.

I sat down and listened as they continued the meeting for 15 minutes or so. All of a sudden, they all turned and looked at me in unison. They had warned us during orientation that this could happen, so when it did, I knew exactly what I had to do: a speech.

I stood up, cleared my throat, and began:

An nyoung haseyo (Hello)

Ne iroomun Ken imnida (My name is Ken)

Juhneun hangook nairo soomool set sal imnida (I am 23 years old)

Juhneun Canada ehsuh wahsoomnida (I am from Canada)

Mannasuh bangap soomnida (Nice meeting you)

Kamsa Hamnida (Thank you)

I finished the speech with a bow, and instantly received a roaring applause and a standing ovation. Wow, all I had to do was memorize a short speech that was on a cue card in my pocket and they made me feel like a superstar. As it turns out, they were just expecting a quick “hello” and a bow, so when they heard Korean coming out of my mouth they could barely contain themselves.

It was time for my first class. Mrs. Jeon led me to the English classroom, and as soon as it came in sight, my jaw dropped to the floor. I couldn’t believe the amount of money they had put into constructing their English lab. It had a huge collection of books, DVDs, several computers lining the wall, beautiful furnishings, and last but DEFINITELY not least, a 72” touch screen monitor with surround sound speakers! This was going to be fun…

I had a mere 5 minutes to explore my new classroom before students started pouring in. They eagerly filled up the first few rows and came to a silence as soon as everyone was seated. Mrs. Jeon sat in the audience with everyone and eagerly watched as I stood in the front of the class.


There it was. The nervousness. It stayed hidden from me the entire time until this point. I had no prep work, no lesson ideas, no understanding of Korean classroom dynamics… absolutely nothing. I cleared my head and began talking.

To be honest, I don’t really remember too much about that first class. I had way too much adrenaline running through my body. From what I can remember, I spent most of it introducing myself and talking about life in Canada. I tried my best to get the students involved in the discussion, but I was worried that they’d find it boring without any visuals. Before I knew it, the bell rang and class was over. They all stood up, bowed, thanked me, and left. Mrs. Jeon approached me and said that my presentation was awesome. She loved it, and the students loved it. Boy, was I relieved.

I had one hour before my next class, so I sat down at the computer and started pouring pictures and videos from Facebook into a makeshift PowerPoint presentation.

My second class was outstanding, and with the help of a few visuals, I had them glued to my presentation and dying to ask questions within minutes.

I taught five classes that first day.


At the end of the day, Mrs. Jeon complimented me on my teaching and said that she was really anxious to work with me for the year.

I couldn’t have gone home happier…

- Ken


  1. Wow...I knew you had it in you! You've always been amazing with kids. I'm sure that all those students will always remember you. When do you get to spank them???

  2. Christine(Jess's mom)7 October 2009 at 11:02

    That's great! First speech in Korean ^^

  3. Oh they get spanked more than enough... I'll gladly play the "good guy" role for the year.

    And Christine, "camsa hamnida!"


    - Ken