Korea and Taiwan: Classroom Moments

In both Korea and Taiwan, the Fulbright ETA grant year has come to a close. Some ETAs have said their goodbyes, while others are staying on with Fulbright for a second or even third year. Regardless, the end of a grant year always invites reflection. Here, Korea and Taiwan ETAs share their most memorable moments from the classroom and stories they know they’ll still be telling in five years. 

This story was produced in collaboration with Infusion, Fulbright Korea’s literary magazine. 

All of my students chose their own English names the first week of class. Among the names were Kentucky, Fried, Chicken (yes, they all sat next to each other), Blue and Orange (they were dating), Pikachu, Larva, Adele, Sam Smith, and Beyonce. One of my 2nd grade high school students chose the name Obama. Flash forward to the next semester. I no longer taught Obama because he was a 3rd grade high school student. I saw him one day and asked him to remind me of his Korean name because I felt weird yelling Obama across school all the time.

He said, “Kim.”
I repeated, “Kim.”
I repeated, “Ba.”
– Monica Mehta, ETA 2015-2016
Naju, Jeollanam-do, South Korea

My second-graders came to class one day and said, “Good afternoon” to me in Vietnamese. I am Vietnamese-American; I came to Taiwan to teach English and American culture, and ended up learning from my students the true meaning of intercultural understanding.
– Chloe, ETA 2015-2016
Taitung City, Taitung County, Taiwan

[I’ll always remember] seeing the excitement in the students’ faces when we learned about the fifty states and seeing them try to find the states on a US map. After that lesson, every time they came into my classroom, they would run up to the US map and try to find another state before we started our lesson of the day. It was great to see them genuinely interested in learning about how each state is different and unique.
– Kristin Krzic, ETA 2015-2016
Iksan, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea

Given the flexibility of my school, the administration often let me create my own activities. While on Jinmen, I collaborated with a number of musicians and eventually started a band with three other friends. Our music was, shall we say, against the Jinmenese traditional grain. We played punk music. On Mother’s Day, we held a performance for students and their families at Shumei (my school). I was deathly afraid that the music would be too abrasive for the young learners, but once we started playing a song we wrote about Mother’s Day, the crowd began clapping on time and some of the students were nodding their heads. At the end we gave out our band’s stickers. Even today, I see our stickers on my students’ water bottles, bags, and other items. Cultural exchange through music, passion, and unspoken tones had a profound impact on our process of understanding each other. The beauty of the Fulbright program is that it allows ostensibly irreconcilable differences to be mitigated through creative engagement and artistic dialogue.
– Oliver Thomas, ETA 2015-2016
Shamei, Jinmen County, Taiwan

It is not a specific story, but what I will still be saying about teaching in five years is that your students, no matter age or where in the world, will always make your experience. They will challenge and frustrate you beyond belief, but they will also make you smile when they finally understand the material and laugh on the days you need most.
– Alessa Strelecki, ETA 2015-2016
Sejong City, South Korea

One ordinary Monday morning, I was preparing to teach a second grade dance-themed English class. Right before doing the morning greeting, I realized that each of my 30 giggling second graders had a balloon stuffed under the shirt of their school uniforms. When I questioned one little boy, he responded “I’m having a baby,” and proudly rubbed his little balloon belly. I didn’t ask any more questions. Once it was time to dance, I turned on the music and encouraged the students to stand up and move around. Suddenly 30 little blue balloons were flying in the air. In complete chaos, the students desperately tried to find their precious babies and stuff them back under their shirts. In that moment, I stopped taking myself so seriously and started to just go with the flow.  
– Sheridan Baker, ETA 2015-2016
Taichung, Taiwan

The first time I heard the song “Cheer Up” by TWICE, I thought during the chorus they were singing “Shut up, baby” instead of “Cheer up, baby.” During a pronunciation lesson I used this as a little example of “why 발음 (bareum, meaning “pronunciation”) really matters”  …And the students thought it was hilarious. Now I hear them shout-singing in the halls all the time, “SHUT UP BABYYYYYY.”
– Mo Kinsinger, ETA 2015-2017
Mokpo, Jeollanam-do, South Korea

During one of my first classes, a male student loudly declared that he “touches man parts!” and eagerly waited for my reaction. In a stroke of calm genius, I turned and wrote three letters on the board: TMI. “Do you know what this means?”
I won that round.
– Monica Heilman, ETA 2014-2016
Busan, South Korea

I was talking with one of my fourth grade girls, and all of a sudden she said “Wait” and she slapped me on the forehead. I was taken aback, and even more shocked when she drew her hand back to show me that it was covered in blood. “蚊子” (mosquito) she said, and then we both started laughing.
– Matthew Noah Baker, ETA 2015-2016
Taichung, Taiwan 

The one story I’ll be sharing five years from now is just being there to listen to students. One day, one of my 6th grade boys who speaks great English and is well-mannered stayed behind class and told me he needed to talk to me about something. He said “I cannot show this to my mom or sister. But this is a Star War’s Story that I wrote. Could you take a look at it and tell me what you think?” I was so surprised that he wrote 29 pages, filling his English notebook completely with a storyline I kept wanting to read (this was only two chapters and the story is fully written in English!). A few days later, I gave him a new notebook and wrote to him to never give up on writing and that he has a wonderful avenue to be creative. I am so proud of him! Within the past week, he gave me an updated version of his story, which is now 45 pages front and back. He will be a future Science Fiction author – I truly believe it! Him wanting to share his story with me and allow me to read his original piece is one of the best gifts someone has given me in Korea.
– Grace Lee, ETA 2015-2016
Sejong City, South Korea

Something that has been very special for me this year is joining the first graders in their Chinese class. I initially thought it was a good way for me to learn Chinese, but I quickly realized that the intimate relationship I had with them as a result of learning with them was what made it truly meaningful. These young kids had no problem accepting the dual personality of teacher and fellow classmate, quickly learning how to switch back and forth between “Teacher Ankita” in English class and “Anqi laoshi” in Chinese class. Some of the students in particular made it their job to take me under their wing and make sure I was moving along with the rest of the class. Patrick would jump out of his seat when he saw me walk in and run to pull up a desk and chair. Jean, who sat next to me, would take my book and open it herself to the correct page. She would then look over frequently to make sure I was pointing at the right passage as we read or filling in the blanks correctly. Mick, who sat in front of me and found me more interesting than the lesson, would turn around in the middle of class and start making funny faces at me, hoping I would notice and return the favor. Although I was doing little teaching and being more of a student and a goofy friend in that class, getting to know the kids in this way really strengthened our relationship. It was an experience that exemplifies how the people I have met in Taiwan have been so willing to make me a part of their lives, and how this year has truly been an exchange. I showed interest in learning their language and wanting to communicate with them, and in return they have been the most welcoming and interactive kids I have ever been around. I don’t think I’ll ever have a better start to my day than the sound of their happy squeals as they see me walk into class.  
– Ankita Henry, ETA 2015-2016
Guanshan Township, Taitung County, Taiwan

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