Wednesday, March 31: The first lesson in the Korean elementary curriculum involves simple greetings: hello, hi, nice to meet you, nice to meet you too. Easy enough. But another part of the lesson involves making introductions. “Hello. Eun Jung Cho, this is Gang Suk. Gang Suk, this is Eun Jung Cho.” I tried a role play for the students, inviting volunteers to the front of the class. I asked each student his/her name, so that I could introduce one to the other. It came out something like this: I said, “What is your name?” The child said, “(Mumble mumble) young soon (mumble).” I said, “Joon Young Soon?” The class giggled and the child shook his head. I said, “What?” The kid mumbled something else unintelligible. Every single time, I got it wrong and the kids snickered….When I did the actual introductions, I often botched the name horribly or forgot it altogether in the course of the role play. It was so pathetic that I started using English names to introduce the kids to one another: Who wants to be Joe?? Who wants to be Ann?? Then the poor kids struggled to remember the fake English names of their friends and they were as confused as I had been previously.
For the inept English teachers who can’t pronounce Korean names (like me), the children often pick English names. This is totally for the benefit of the dense native English teacher. I actually asked my fifth and sixth graders to make up English name tags. They chose names that included Looney Tune, Curie (for Madame Curie of radioactivity fame), Ronaldo, Amy, Chloe, Jennifer, Max, Sam, Obama, Simpson, Trudy, Helena, Wonder Woman, Zinna, Tania, Holly, Sally, Gloria, Gun, Hera, and Giroro.
I never asked for this, but the tiny first graders at Byeokjin Elementary had already picked English names before I came into their class. Funny thing is, they are animal names. There is panda, shark, alligator, snake, doggie, cat, rabbit, pig, zebra, raccoon, elephant, cat, and mouse. A multitude of little animals, a virtual zoo! The teacher asks me each day to go around one by one and introduce myself. In turn, I say, “Hello. What is your name?” An angelic little child says in a squeaky high-pitched voice, “I’m doggie.” I say, “Hello doggie, nice to meet you.” The child responds, “Nice to meet you too.”
I am on the verge of crying as I do these introductions! I imagine each and every child as the animal name they have picked. It is so funny, yet so touching. We automatically make associations with each animal that we don’t realize we make, and when suddenly paired with a human being, an animal name gives the human a whole different dimension. My little menagerie has totally captured my heart:-)