Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Madeline Meets the North Koreans

I recently blogged a tad bit about Justice for North Korea .

Handing out flyers at JFNK's Street Campaign with my friend Erin. Photo via Breda

At a JFNK meeting recently, I met my new friend Andrea--a lecturer at the University of Seoul who also runs Soap for Hope, a charity that makes/sells soap to raise funds to rescue North Koreans. Recently, she was able to offer me the opportunity to meet/tutor some of her North Korean university students--which I jumped at the chance to do, naturally. I never imagined I'd ever get the opportunity to meet a North Korean, never mind teach them English! It would be stupid for me to pass something like this up.

However--to be perfectly honest--I was slightly terrified before going to meet these students for the first time last night. All of these horrible stereotypes kept bubbling up in my mind--what if they all hated me after they figured out that I was an American, considering that most North Koreans are taught from the age of five that Americans are 미친놈s(mechinnom--crazy bastard)?

Would they say disparaging things about all of my capitalistically obtained things--my cell phone, my weird mismatched clothes obtained from all over the free market, my iPod? What if they were scared of me, or I couldn't understand their weird, non-South Korean Korean? What if they were so horribly screwed up from being brainwashed by Kim Jong Ill/escaping one of the most oppressive regimes in the world that they were just weird shells of people, who could only stare vacantly into space, drool coming out of the sides of their mouths, as they wallowed in how miserable they were, as I would surely do if I had gone through a fraction of what these students had been through?????????

It didn't really help that I was running late, and had to run through the basement of a dark building on the campus of the University of Seoul to find the classroom where Andrea had arranged for me to meet the three students. I found the classroom--which was located down a dark hallway that smelled like mildew--took a deep breath, and opened the door.

Inside were three Koreans who I wouldn't have been able to pick out on a street full of hoody-wearing, letterman jacket sporting Korean Uiversity students. Two guys, one girl, sitting at three desks in front of the huge, empty classroom, notebooks opened on their desks and pens ready, like good students. They didn't call me a capitalistic pig! Or stare at me sullenly! In fact, their "Hello, Teacher"s were a lot more enthusiastic than my high schoolers! I suddenly felt extremely excited/fascinated/positively crazed with curiosity.

I couldn't figure out whether to sit down with them, or stand--I ended up doing both throughout the course of the hour and looked like a first rate idiot, I'm sure. I had planned a few introduction worksheets/activities, which we went over in the most sporadic, unorganized way possible. I was just so fascinated by the way they seemed so...normal.

Sure, the two guys couldn't have been more than 5'4"--probably having been stunted from being malnourished at some point--and they definitely looked older/more tired than typical South Koreans their age. But they cracked jokes about not having boy/girlfriends, were impressed that I knew that 냉면 (nangmyeon--Korean iced buckwheat noodles) comes from Pyongyang, and all seemed really ambitious and motivated--they told me they want to be a CEO ("Do you know 'Chief Executive Officer'"? was how this was hilariously expressed to me), a Chinese teacher, and a writer, respectively. They wanted to know the English words for everything--the names of the suits on the deck of cards we played games with, how to say exactly 'I don't have a boyfriend,' how to spell my first and last name.

I would SO have nangmyeon with these kids. (Source)

Now that I am back at public school today, suddenly all of my kids, who I thought were so sweet yesterday, seem like snot-nosed, entitled brats. I had a whole class fall asleep today, and while normally this wouldn't offend me so much, today, it did. Yes, South Korean student life--with its hagwons/hours spent studying/intense pressure to get sky high test scores--is hard. But now that I've met people who have escaped from what is essentially hell on Earth, only to come out smiling/polite/just as motivated as any other Korean student, I'm inclined to be less sympathetic @.@

1 comment:

  1. Posted as part of a piece on my blog: