Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lost in Transition

I no longer teach middle school listening classes. There are no words for how thrilled I am about that. Instead, I now give conversation "classes" to two of the middle school teachers four days a week. I use "classes" in the loosest sense of the word; most of the time it's just 45 minutes to chat and have tea and get my nails done. Free manicures? Win! It's much easier for me to deal with adults—I imagine most people would say the same thing. Were I to stay in Korea, I think I would bounce the hagwon business and look for adult classes.

One reason I prefer these classes is because "Christina" and "Victor" (I really hate the idea of "English names," I really do) obviously have a much better command of the language than even the smartest of my students. They can speak to me in sentences and understand English enough that I can explain words or phrases they don't already know in English. Because of that, I can pry a bit deeper into Korean culture than I can with my students and ask more complicated questions. I've learned that while I can be pretty patient and tolerant with children being, well, children, I have zero tolerance for the language barrier. You need to be able to break your explanations down to very simple words and exaggerated facial expressions and body language; to slow down. I have such a hard time slowing down. Such a hard time.

While Christina was painting my nails on Thursday, she asked me what kind of music I liked. I'm pretty sure she's asked me before; I don't know if it's because she forgot or because she didn't know what else to talk about. In any case, I said that I liked all kinds of music: hip-hop, rock, classical, get the idea. (My playlist just jumped from Meat Beat Manifesto to Maynard Ferguson to confirm my eclectic tastes.) "Anything that's energetic and happy," I said, to sum up. It doesn't quite cover all the bases but close enough.

"My personality is very happy, optimistic," Christina replied, "but I like sad music. Blue music."

Ah hah! Here was a chance to do a little cultural digging.

"One of my favorite singers is Janis Joplin," I told Christina. "Do you know her?"

Christina looked puzzled. "Janis Joplin? No."

I wrote down her name on the notepad Christina brought with her. "Janis Joplin was a singer from the 60s. She died in...1970? 1971? Too many drugs. But she sang the blues. Sad music. I listened to her a lot in high school, when I was depressed about my boyfriend leaving me. And I listen to her now, too, but it's not the same. I enjoy sad music more when I'm sad, too."

That blew my mind a little bit. I'm well aware that countries are capable of producing their own music and don't need to import Western acts, but I rank Janis up there with The Beatles and Michael Jackson in terms of international appeal (at least to people of a certain age group). And typing that up, I realize how silly and naive that is, but still, that's what I tend to expect. Especially from adults who have studied English for quite some time.

So my new mission is to put together a custom CD, this time for Christina and Victor (and Jong-min, since he has gaping holes in his music library). School of Rock, take two.

1 comment:

  1. maybe she'd like emo? need some dashboard confessional on that mix cd!