But seriously, apologies. Want to know why I didn’t blog for a week and a half even though I traditionally, neurotically bordering on pathologically post at least on a weekly basis if only to have an outlet for the adverbial adverbage swilling in my head? Me too. Got no idea, especially considering how impossibly awesome my students are this semester.
I’m not a gushing person by nature, but they're fantastic. And this is why:
Last Wednesday I first got wind that this Thursday would be another English department soccer game. I vaguely looked forward to it, but in the back of my mind was the isolation that comes with being the only American. The only girl. I remembered the first time I tried to play at Kosin and was sent away since no one had told me it was a student-only game. The weekend went by.
This Tuesday afternoon, I was walking up to my office when I met Bowen, coming down the stairs. Bowen is a third-year and built like a brick wall, expressionless even when he smiles. Even when he's talking, I don't think he actually moves his mouth.
“Five o’clock,” he said ominously, holding up a spreadeagled hand. “Five o’clock Thursday.”
Yesterday, I was rushing off to class, perpetually late to morning freshmen English, when third-year Daniel skittered by. Daniel’s a shorter guy, an excellent student with a dorky laugh. He often skitters, but he can also skitter around a full complement of defenders, all a good foot taller than him and land a shot from the corner of the eighteen. “Oh!” He starts a lot of sentences with ‘oh!’ “Oh, Thursday! Five o’clock! Bye!”
Today, the much-anticipated Thursday, I finished off 9 am freshmen English and stayed at my podium as my students swarmed forward, rather than out of the doors. Chloe--tall, bright, perpetually late to class--checked her attendance record. Grace, with big dreams to become a cartoonist, always gives me a personal goodbye. El--my elfin student who loves fairy tales, once brought me pictures with which to decorate my office, and picked and personally brought me the most perfect pink lotus flower I’ve ever seen in my life--stopped by to tell me that when her boyfriend visits from Seoul she wants me to meet him.
Matthew--skinny as a beanpole with one of those smiles that proves “exuberance is beauty”--and Kaka--an older student, fresh home after his military duties, hard-working and aggressive--hovered nearby.
|Skinny Matthew. Not his real smile.|
I raised two eyebrows at them, half-smiling. They’re both soccer-mad and the last time the three of us played together we connected on a few nice passing plays. I knew what they were about.
Kaka, the “hyung” or “older brother” in this situation, looked to skinny Matthew, who speaks pretty good English for a freshman.
“Um, at five o’clock, we are playing soccer. Together-?”
“Yep, I’m coming!”
Truth was, I was waffling about it--it’s been a stressful week, I needed to relax--until that moment. Matthew grinned and Kaka broke out into his “Okay!” that sort of means, “Great/I agree/Good idea” all at once. Heartfelt, impromptu, double high-fives are my favorite.
The day passed in a high-stress, high-energy blur. By five o’clock I’d had a nice, throbbing headache for the past three hours and knots in my neck. My voice was disappearing from trying to control a 46-person conversation class.
But it was Thursday. Five o’clock. And Brick-wall Bowen, Skittering Daniel, Skinny Matthew, Okay! Kaka, and all the rest of the soccer mad English boys were there: Hoon, Gerrard, Torres, Snoopy, Matthew2, Kevin, Steve, Jacob, Mike.
We didn’t win the game. I didn’t play well. But I think I’m starting to understand the power of Korean group mentality, the power of inclusiveness even on an avowed introvert. And it's great.
**For the record, these pictures were taken somewhat under duress (ala most things I do to my students here). During our English department retreat, I passed my camera around the circle and told them they had to take a self portrait. They hated it because they couldn't look at themselves as they took the picture like you can with a smart phone. Consequently the picture quality suffered because the kids were super awkward with my digital. Also, I promised the kids I wouldn't post the pictures on my blog. Sorry, Hannah. I lied.