Sometimes I forget that I’m foreign. That I don’t look like everyone else. Sometimes I even forget we all speak a different language.
Chris and I live in an English bubble in our home. Sure, all the packages are in Korean and the sockets are different, but you can forget those easily. That’s just your home. We can even forget after we step outside, to go to school or the store . It’s only after we hear Korean do we remember. “Oh, woah. Woah. Korean. Different country.”
On Monday I had an appointment with the IT lady on the first floor. She was going to teach me how to laminate stuff (I can’t believe I’ve made it almost 3 months as a teacher without laminating anything). I walk into the office and I know what she looks like. But then I get really worried. She doesn’t know what I look like. How will she recognize me? Andrew said I would come meet her during 5th period, but I’m early. I should just come back later- oh wait a minute. I’m white. I’m the only white employee in this school. She knows what I look like.
Sure enough, she comes right over and teaches me how to laminate without any exchange of words.
Today I had to laminate more things. I knew how to do it but not where the laminating sheets were. My friendly IT helper wasn’t there so I walk over to some guy. Oh wait, I can’t speak any Korean. I kind of gurgle at him “uh, eh, it. The thing…” and motion for him to come with me. I walk back to the laminating machine and try to emulate laminating. All I want is the glossy stuff and I can do it myself, I swear. He says a few things I answer “nay, nay.” Yes. Yes. Whatever it is, yes. I probably want it. He goes out into the hall where one of my 3rd grade co-worker staff friends is. She’s not a co-teacher, but I see her all the time in our office. The guy thinks maybe she can help – she works with the me all day, she’ll know what I want. No, she doesn’t, she doesn’t speak English with me. Then the vice principal comes along. It feels like one of those kids stories where the main character goes on a quest and collects about 30 different friends en route. So I had the original guy, the staff member from my office, the vice principal – then a co-teacher joined us. And then finally the IT lady showed up. So we were good to go, not everyone had to help me laminate any more.
Other people sometimes forget that I’m different, forigen or that I can’t speak Korean as well. Students forget all the time. Sometimes they just speak in Korean to me. That doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Other times, they ask me questions about things that happen after school. Almost always they ask about things I don’t even know about. If I didn’t even know it existed, I certainly cannot tell you the details about it. I feel bad because they get the bravery to ask me in English “what time is…” “Can I do…?” and I just send them right over to a Korean speaker. Sorry kids.
My co-workers in the office never forget about me. They always make sure I get office snacks -often aggressively, (actually as I type this I was given an orange juice). They also usually make sure I have a lunch buddy to eat with. But they have been known to forget that I’m a foreigner. The phone closest to me rings. And rings. And rings. A head pokes over the desk and glares at me for half a second. Aren’t you going to get tha- oh. No. You’re not.
Often in the morning, someone comes to pass out professional development, school info, booklets, information, etc. The lady goes on co-pilot mode and just reaches around the person working to put it on the desk. I almost always get one. Although sometimes they look at who I am, and just take it back. Sometimes with a small snort/giggle.
The worst about being foreign is that I’m often the only person in the office. The rest of the staff members have to go to meetings or discipline their home rooms. So I’m alone in the office. I have my back to the door. So sometimes people enter to visit or deliver hamburgers (yeah, that’s right. People deliver hamburgers. To us. In the middle of the day.)”Annyeonghasaeo!” they call being friendly. And I ruin everything when I turn around to make sure it isn’t the principal
I must seriously look like this because some people almost gasp- they’re shocked to see me. Many Koreans dye their hair brown so I guess I could look Korean from behind. Also, I guess when you go into a Korean school in Korea you’re not expecting a foreign employee.
So whatever they wanted to tell me when I was Korean is gone. They will often just kindof point at the thing they brought. I got you this… I brought the thing.
Wordlessly I nod back – I’m sure someone was expecting that and will find it. Because I can’t even tell anyone about it.
Usually my life:
Students will come in to make copies. The copying machine is almost always broken. They look around with that ‘I need an adult face’ which fades to disappointment when they see the only adult at their disposal is me. The copying machine is in Korean – they have a better chance of helping me fix the copying machine.