Cultural Exchange

“사랑합니다!” My attention turned to the entrance door of the English room office. Three students stood with their heads bowed. I nodded my head in acknowledgement, “okay” I said with a smile on my face. As the  students giggled and ran away. I turn to my co-teacher,

“What did they say?” 

“They said, they love you.”

 “Love me?” I retorted. 

Yes, it’s a campaign that started last year at the school. When the students see their teachers, they say, 사랑합니다.”

Oh, okay.” That day marked the beginning of my cultural exchange.

It was my first few weeks in Korea. Everything was relatively new. It was a season of awareness. A time where I would observe my students, colleagues and overall environment. I remember walking into the classroom for the first time. My students gasping for air, Wahhhh (mouths wide open, chatter from all corners of the room) 여어선생님 (English teacher). They asked questions like, is that your real skin? Your hair it’s strange, could I touch it? Willynn teacher, where are you from? How old are you? What religion do you practice? Do you have a boyfriend? Are you married? How about children? As I answered their questions, I thought about their innocent curiosity. Their eagerness to want to know more about me, rather than English. The moment was iconic a beautiful cultural exchange.

As the weeks and months passed, I started to learn more and more about them. I learned about their interest, competitive nature, English games that captivated their attention and their after school activities. I witnessed their efforts in speaking English when trying to tell me about their weekend or just to simply ask me a question. There were moments when my students became my teachers. Teaching me about their culture and their world without even realizing it. Together we have cultivated a classroom filled with cultural exchanges. I am learning from them as they are learning from me.

I come to realize teaching English is not only my sole purpose here. My commitment in Korea is much greater, deeper and wider than key phrases and English vocabulary. My stay here represents a piece of a puzzle to my students global story. I may not get to see who they become in the future, but everyday I work with them is an   opportunity to bridge the gap of differences between two cultures.

I understand it now. When my students said 살나합니다 they weren’t saying it in the passionate way like Hollywood portrays it. They are expressing gratitude, appreciation and interest in me, my culture and all the knowledge I’ve come to share with them. In that regard, I say, “살나합니다” to them. They have and are teaching me immensely. I am forever honored to be a piece of the puzzle to their global stories. A beautiful cultural exchange…

Signing Out,

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Willynn Sanon Thompson

Writer’s Name: Esther Lynn