Saturday, July 24, 2010
Before I get to the good-stuff…
Today, in English Camp at my school, a student came into class late with a badly skinned-knee. It’s one of those ones where pinkish stuff oozes out of the wound instead of blood. He showed me and then just rolled his pants down over his knee again. I asked him to roll them back up so that I could get him a bandage.
I went to my office where two of my school’s English teachers were working, and to summarize a 5-minute conversation, our school apparently only had a first aid kit in the nurse’s room – which was currently being renovated and was therefore inaccessible.
I thought it was odd that a camp for 30 students could be allowed to happen without at least a basic first-aid kit immediately available, but I simply requested that it would be a good idea to buy one with one of our many budgets to keep in the English room. The two teachers offered to head to the nearby pharmacy (a 2 minute walk from our school’s front door), and get a bandage for his knee. But what size?
I tried to show them by linking my fore-finger to my thumb – making an “A-Okay” sign – the hole being the size of his wound, and once that was established, there was some work to be done to explain that, while the offer of multiple band-aids was a kind one, the length-wise width of the padded portion of the band was not enough to cover the wound, and my student would have ended-up with the sticky bits covering his oozing sore.
When I realized that I wasn’t making myself clear, I suggested that the teachers look at the wound for themselves, and they joined me in the classroom and checked it out.
After we returned to the office to once again continue the consultation regarding the type of bandage we should be seeking, when I finally suggested that they just go to the pharmacy, describe the wound, and the pharmacist would take care of the rest. That was when one of the teachers said the following:
“You really want us to go?”
“Ummm… yes, please. I’m teaching my class right now, but if you need me to go, could you supervise my students while I am out of the school?”
(hesitant and serious) “I mean, is it real?”
“Is what real?”
“His hurt knee?”
“Yes, it’s really hurt – you saw it, right?”
(long and awkward pause)
“I thought maybe you just draw on his knee with a marker…”
(much longer, and much more awkward silence)
“No… it’s a real cut…”
I remember my friend, Lex, who has recently gone back to the Pacific NW of the U.S., but who had lived in Seoul for more than 6 years, telling me that in her experience as a foreigner in the Korean workplace, 2 + 2 doesn’t always = 4.
Honestly, that was about the most awkward conversation I’ve had since coming here, and it brought to mind two things:
1) I regretfully don’t have as close or as understanding a relationship with my school’s co-teachers as some of my friends do with theirs.
2) The oddest of things can get lost in translation very easily if the atmosphere that exists in the workplace is one of even slight caution and apprehension.
It’s not that we don’t try, but perhaps that we try too hard. Even with those of my co-teachers who speak a very high level of English, we sometimes have to work harder to see eye-to-eye, or to know where the other is coming from. It's more than just a language issue - it's an inability to communicate through other channels as well.
I don’t know – I realize that this is simply a weird little incident, but it made me think: do I really seem to my co-workers, whom I have known and worked with for well-over a year, to be the kind of person who would drag-on a hoax about a skinned knee – just for poops and ha-has, and while we are all three of us very busy with class and preparations for class?
Apparently, today the answer was yes.
I don’t know, I suppose there’s a lot I could say about it, but for now I’ll just say that today I was disappointed that we don’t know each other better. Yes – the incident was irritating to me, likely embarrassing to them, and it left at least me with a strange taste in my mouth – again, probably disappointment.
Back to the drawing-board. Though this reads like an isolated incident, it was one of many that are similar and born out of discomfort with each other, and that’s something I’m really hoping we are able to eliminate soon.