“So, have you thought of what you’re going to say at the assembly today?”

Young Rak asked me as we drove to school this morning.  He is to be my co-worker, and has been absolutely delightful so far; explaining things, driving me around, and introducing me to people. Also, I have him saved as Young Rock in my phone which amuses me.

“I’m speaking?”

“You know, you’ll introduce yourself.  You will have to say hello, and why you’re happy to be here,” he glanced at me. “Don’t worry! Just be natural.  Only one time is in front of people.  The other time is broadcast, so you don’t have to worry about being in front.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a video that is sent to all the T.V.s in the classrooms.  You can say hello to the children.  Be natural.  Just be natural.”


As it turns out, I wasn’t required to speak, but I did stand up with the other newcomers a couple of times as someone else said something that faintly sounded like my name. I have learned that, unfortunately, Siobhan (when pronounced correctly) sounds like a swearword in Korean. So Young Rak has decided that the teachers and students will be calling me just “Stewart,” which happens to be very difficult for Koreans to pronounce. They somehow stretch it to four syllables (stu-eh-ar-rt). Stewart has always been my saving grace as far as being my simple name. I’ve heard the relief in telephone operators’ voices after I spell my first name and tell them that my second is “Stewart.” Still, I never planned for it to become my first name. I pointed out that when used as a first name it’s for a boy, and Young Rak seemed to find this information really amusing.

Me learning about my supposed speeches (and, indeed, their lack of materialization) is indicative of much of what I’ve read/heard about the Korean school system.  You have to be flexible.  Things change all the time and you have to flow with it, otherwise you’ll  be driven crazy.  Case in point: I discovered that not only did Young Rak not want to be an English co-teacher (his speciality is elsewhere and he wanted to work in that area because it’s important to get hours or something), but he was only told of his new position two weeks ago.  Two.  So the cultural lesson difference here:

In America, your boss/superintendent can’t force you to take a job you don’t want at the very last minute. Sure bosses can take advantage of you, and you might feel obligated to perform duties you would rather not (because you have flimsy boundaries and can’t manage your nos)(judgment!)(only because I’m much worse).  But you will never be told you have an entirely different job two weeks before starting. That’s simply not enough time for physical and mental preparation.  Granted, I’m only getting his side of the story, and maybe the job was up in the air and he knew it might land on him…Still.

In Korea…the opposite happens.


I challenge anyone to a game of charades when I’m done with this adventure.  I’ve mastered how to tell someone that I want to eat in the restaurant, go upstairs, find something, eat something, etc. without any words.

I’m also slowly gaining a sense of the bus system here. I’ll go into detail later, but for now it’s good to know that the 090 bus is NOT the same as the 90 bus, and therefore does NOT go to my bus stop but to a bunch of random locations that look similar enough to appease my confused little gray cells.

Anyways, I leave you with this story: Today was class preparation/orientation (for me) day. Young Rak had me scan a powerpoint he had created for English mistakes.  It was a powerpoint made up of photocopies of Japanese children’s book that had been translated in Korean that he had now translated into English. Yes. Anyways, the book was about how there is no wrong question and students shouldn’t feel ashamed when they make mistakes because it allows them to improve.  One of the slides, to illustrate this point, had a picture of “God” (you know, old dude, long white hair, flowing robe), and some kids. The English description read: “God can make a mistake, so can you.”  I was stymied.  I was stymied because In America, we generally refer to one God, and He doesn’t make mistakes.

However, Young Rak explained to me, that since it was originally a Japanese book, they were referring to one of many gods (as Young Rak said, “that’s not, like, Jesus,”) who apparently can make mistakes, and if a god can make a mistake, it’s OK if you do too. So, naturally, I corrected his words to “A god can make a mistake, so can you,” which is still really weird sounding to me, but it’s the gist. We’re trying to keep the word count down and the vocab simple.


4 thoughts on ““So, have you thought of what you’re going to say at the assembly today?”

Add yours

  1. I TOLD your dad back in 1974 that Siobhan would be a hard name for a little girl of his to have some day. Not that it’s not beautiful. It’s just not phonetic. And I didn’t even know about the Korean swear word connection. And I HAVE FOUR NAMES he could have used. But he was determined.

    Just sayin’……


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