south korea is the second least ethnically diverse country in the world (only after north korea!) so if you don't look asian here, you are going to stand out. some foreigners complain that they don't like how koreans stare at them. for the most part, i don't notice being looked at and it doesn't bother me. i realize that it must be surprising for them to see foreigners especially in smaller towns and also certain areas of a city... and especially for young children who have probably never seen any non-korean in person before. however, there have been a few times, when older people (usually old men) have just given me the death stare on the street and it's made me feel a little uncomfortable, but i don't think that even in those instances it was necessarily done out of malice. i think it's really mostly that they're surprised and curious to see a foreigner.
getting new kids used to school
when new three and four-year-olds start in the preschool, they spend the first week or so just getting used to the school. the korean teachers kind of just let them play when the other kids are supposed to be in class and don't yell at them about anything. they also don't leave them alone with the foreign teachers because usually, they are scared of us and need a week or two to get used to us. each kid has a different reaction, though. there is one little girl (three) who just gets this huge grin every time she sees me and starts to giggle. but sometimes they start crying when we walk into the room.
what's another language??
another crazy aspect of getting them used to the school is that at first they don't understand what the english language is. when they're that young, how can you even expect them to understand the concept of a foreign language? they don't understand that the other foreign teacher and i don't speak enough korean to always understand what they are talking about.
a few months ago, i was talking to a brand new three-year-old. i was pointing to things on a piece of paper and saying the words. then she points to the number 7 and says "chil" (seven in korean). i say "seven." she really insists, "aniyo, chil! chil!" at that point, she just did not understand that different languages exist. they learn so fast at that age though. a few weeks later, this girl started coming up to me speaking gibberish that sounded like english after every time she saw me praise another kid for their english. then before i knew it, she knew all the colors, numbers and animals. now if i ask her something like "what color is your shirt?" she can answer correctly and she is so proud of herself. she is an interesting kid to watch learn. she is really strong-willed and stubborn and gets in fights with the other kids a lot because she kind of thinks she's the queen bee. she can be a little much to handle sometimes, but in another way, she is an ideal english student. she is really keen to interact with and impress us foreign teachers, so her motivation to retain new words is really high. she learns crazy fast.
a three-year-old boy took a while to comprehend the fact that i didn't understand most of what he was saying when he spoke korean to me. he called me "wae-gook seon-saeng-nim" (foreign teacher) for about two and a half weeks, before catching on to the fact that the other kids all call me "sarah teacher". i thought that was really funny. one time he was speaking to me in korean and another kid told him that i only speak english. that i'm the english teacher. without skipping a beat, he then started calling me "yeong-eo seon-saeng-nim" (english teacher) and kept speaking in korean to me.
there's another kid who's a bit older than those two. he's five, but he also just started at our school a few months ago. he is goofy and has a really positive attitude. he learns really fast too. i just think it's a bit strange how much he talks about foreigners. i can't understand most of what he's saying usually. all i know is i frequently hear the word "waegook" come out of his mouth several times in a conversation with the other kids. one time he told them, "foreigners can't speak korean." he seems to like me, so i don't think he is saying racist things or negative things, but i really wish i knew why he gives daily lectures on foreigners. it kind of seems like he just fancies himself an expert on foreigners and he's sharing his knowledge with the other kids.