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Days 48-51: Teacher for an Hour

It has been a few days since I posted because I've been pretty stressed this weekend. "But why?" You may ask. "Aren't the midterms over?" Yes... Yes, that's true. But life does not suddenly stop after the midterms. I did not have days off after the midterms, so I had a lot of homework to catch up on last week, but that is not what stressed me this weekend. I managed to do all of my homework early in the weekend.

No, it was stress of a different sort.

You see, at the beginning of the school term, I had decided that singing up for the Volunteering club would be an excellent idea. Circumstance led me to agree to come into a class and introduce my country to a room full of kids.

Only trouble with this is that I am terrified of kids. It's an irrational fear. Some people are scared of spiders, I am scared of kids.

No reason, and all kids. All except my goddess of a niece who is (thankfully) the one exception to the rule.

So this was not exactly going to be an easy thing for me.

Add to that my recent stage freight and lack of powerpoint skills (I have not made a powerpoint presentation in 8 years), another presentation due the following day, and it's an.... interesting combination.

So all weekend I was preparing two presentations, and contacting the two teachers in charge. I had e-mail trouble because the files were so large and I was sending them back and forth and ended up using all of my e-mail space, and other challenges too. But in the end, I succeed in making the presentation and practiced them as well as I could.

On the Sunday, to really relax and all, my roommate and I went to eat burgers.

Don't look at me like that. Eating burgers here is a different experience from in Europe or elsewhere, and it's not like I went to Mcdonalds. I just wanted some bread and something that was crunchy so burger and fries seemed to be perfect. There's a place here, in Sinchon, called Mom's Touch, that's really good. I had a spicy fried chicken burger and it was good. I had been there with classmates of mine before but I knew that my roommate would enjoy it too.

It took the edge off and made me focus on something else for a little while, but I was still worried.

My presentation for the voluntary work was half an hour of me introducing my country (Denmark in this case) to a room of twenty kids under 10 years old who, I had been told, struggled to sit still and focus.

To me that was half an hour too long. I did my best to prepare anyways. I presented it twice in front of my roommate, I made a quiz at the end and I went out and bought Danish cookies to give the good kids who got the quiz questions right.

Despite going to sleep early last night, on the Sunday, I couldn't fall asleep. I was tired but I just stared at the ceiling for hours and worried.

The Viking writer in me, recited Odin's words of wisdom: "The foolish man spends all night worrying, come morning he is tired and everything is as bad as it was." But although I knew it to be true, I could not settle down.

The day started well too. I got a message both from the government (via my phone company) and from my AirGuardK app, telling me that the pollution was pretty bad today and that in an effort to reduce the daily pollution level experienced the government made public transportation free for the day. So, I remembered to grab my mask before heading out.

In truth it wasn't nearly as bad as I have seen it before, but it's nice to see the government take measures to reduce the daily stress when a bad wave is headed towards us from China.

Today at school, I was so worried. I knew my presentation. I had gone through it enough times to know it by heart, but still I was worried.

What if the kids couldn't understand my Korean? The teacher for my voluntary work told me that was no problem at all since my Korean accent was very good, but I still worried. What if I ended up going blank like when I walked into my speaking exam and sat down in front of my teacher? What if my voice starts trembling? And what if the kids make fun of me?

I tried to tell myself that they were just kids and this was voluntary work so no one could have big expectations to me, but I was still worried.

I ate half a kimbap but I was so worried that I wasn't even hungry. I just knew I had to eat something first, so I stuffed it down, and then I went out to meet the voluntary work teacher and another student, from Hong Kong, who would present before me.

The voluntary work was happening at the Welfare Centre at the Ewha campus which is at the top of the large hill. Thankfully the weather was decent (minus the pollution risk), so the hike was not half bad. The Welfare Centre is up right next to the Hanwoori Dormitory where Undergrads live, and this is the place with the lovely view of Namsan Tower, where I went to see the sunrise on the first day of the year.

We entered the Centre and set up. One of the three workers there helped us set up and brought us microphones telling us that the kids could be pretty loud so we would need it.

It felt like a warning sign saying: "run now, while you still can," but I held my ground.

The girl from Hong Kong got her presentation ready and then the kids began to arrive. Hello I said as they arrived, and waved my hands to be all friendly. One girl in a grey sweater stops up in front of me and says: "Say something in Danish speak! What does it sound like? What is Danish speak like?"

She spoke SO fast. It was like a rap from another universe

The voluntary work teacher was as surprised as me. She gaped down at the girl with her mouth hanging open and tilted her head to the side in one big question mark. Thankfully, I trained my Korean skills by listening to rap, so this was a language that I knew well.

"Danish?" I asked, and then I told her, "Hello, how are you?" in Danish, and she gaped up.

"That's not right!" she said. "That's not English!"

"In Denmark we speak Danish, not English," I tell her.

I take a seat at the back of the class as the student from Hong Kong gets ready to present. Twenty kids I count, and they are loud. And I mean really loud. You know that feeling when you're out on a Friday night, and find yourself somewhere so loud that in order to be heard you have to not whisper but shout into the ear of the person standing right next to you? Yes, that was the feeling.

The kids were really loud. The teacher and the Hong Kong student tried to make them calm down but they were really loud. Now I understood why the microphone was needed.

The other students began her presentation on Hong Kong. The kids were screaming everything they knew or thought they knew about Hong Kong. They were loud and she frequently had to say: "Hey kids. Quiet down. Sit down."

But she finished her presentation well and did a quiz for the kids. The kids were SO loud during the quiz too. I thought: "Oh my... This is how I die." And then suddenly it was my turn.

I grabbed my cookie tin jar full of Danish butter cookie and bravely stood up. A few of the kids were pointing at the tin cookie jar I was holding in my hands. I had picked out Danish cookies in a local shop as a reward for the winners, and so I asked them if they knew the cookies, and they said "yes, they're so delicious!"

It's cookies that you can find in the big snack shops here, which is quite interesting. They're obviously wrapped differently and a lot more expensive here than in Denmark, but that plays no matter. When dealing with kids, I reckon that sugar is the best bribe.

I put down the tin jar, and approach the podium and the terrifying microphone. I took a deep breath, told myself: "they're not kids, they're just regular people who are here because they want to hear about your country. It's just half an hour and then you can get out of here."

So I grab the microphone and hear my own voice come out through the speakers: "Hello everyone!"

"Hello!" the kids loudly reply.

"Hello, hello! Teacher is from Denmark," I say.

I prepare myself to have to shout and scream to be heard, but then the strangest thing happens. These kids who had been yelling and loud since they walked in, are suddenly completely quiet.

"Have you heard of Denmark?" I ask.


"You have?" (I was genuinely surprised) "Then do you know where it is?"

My first powerpoint slide is a world map. A few kids raise their hands. Did you notice that, dear readers? They're not screaming, they're raising their hands. I pick a boy, and ask him if he knows where it is. He come out and points to the map. Straight at Europe.

"Well done," I tell him and go to the next slide, which shows Europe. "And now it's getting difficult! This is Europe, where do you think Denmark is?"

Another boy raises his hand and tries to guide me to point at the right place, but it's not working out so I ask him to come out and point himself. He does as asked and points to Finland.

"A great guess," I tell him. "But a wrong answer."

The kids are finding this hilarious. They're guessing again. They shouting a little, trying to be heard, and get chosen to go to the board, but they're not nearly as loud as before. I pick a girl this time, who comes out and tries her luck, but she also gets it wrong. I invite one more student up and to my surprise, he gets it right and points straight to Denmark.

I praise him and move on talking about how tiny tiny Denmark is. A student (the out of this universe fast rapper from earlier) raises her hand and asks "Is there any country as small as Denmark?"

"Yes," I tell her. "In Europe, there is a country called Luxembourg," and I go on to explain how small it is and how although Denmark is very small there are other countries who are smaller.

I start to introduce how Denmark looks and it is so quiet. I feel myself getting nervous, and wonder if the kids are really tired after all of that screaming earlier. What if they fall asleep?

But I move on with my presentation. I tell them that it rains a lot in Denmark and that you can see a lot of deer in Denmark, even in our Capital city you can see them, I explain and ask them if they have ever seen a deer.

A student proudly raises his hand and says that he has seen one, so I ask him where he has seen one, and he very cutely answers that his mother once showed him a photo of a deer.

Then I move on to talk about Himmelbjerget (Literally "the mountain in the heavens") which is the tallest point in Denmark. I have the kids try to guess how tall this is. Lots of different answers are coming out. Lots of names of mountains in Korea, to which I easily say no.

"All the way out into outer space!" says a student.

"A good guess, but a wrong answer," I say. "Since it's called Heaven's mountain you would think that it was really tall right? But actually it's not even as big as Namsan here in Seoul. It's the size of a tall building. Not even a sky scraper, just a tall building. It's not much taller than the building next door"

The kids are all trying to wrap their heads around this and are finding it really funny. So I proceed to tell them about the population in Denmark. I tell them how many people live in Seoul, and I ask them how many people they think live in a tiny country like Denmark.

They accurately guess that it must be less people than in Seoul, but although they guess correctly (and again without any shouting but with raised hands waiting to be picked), they all seem equally surprised that the answer is right.

A pig photo appears on my slide at that moment, and I say my prepared line: "We're talking about people, why is there a pig here? There is a reason for this, everyone, it's because in Denmark there are more pigs than people!"

The kids are looking really happy, and I am starting to realise that they're not being this quiet because they're bored or about to fall asleep but because they're listening and learning.

There is one boy in an orange sweater who is especially good at guessing and it feels like a true friend. Whenever I ask something of the group of kids, however stupid, he is always the first one to raise his hand and his answers are good even if not always correct. He seems to be enjoying it a lot.

I ask the kids how their parents go to work. Lots of answers like driving or bus or metro or taxi. And then I introduce the concept of Danish people riding bikes everywhere.

"Teacher, teacher! Do you ride a bike too?"

"In Denmark I used to ride my bike to school, yes," I answer. They are very fascinated by this. In Korea, a bicycle is not a way of transport but a sport.

I ask them if they remember how the weather in Denmark was. I only mentioned it briefly but now they're all saying: It rains all the time! So I praise them for getting it right and ask them how they think Danish people get to work or school when it rains. They're still trying to comprehend the logic behind it when I tell them that Danish people are stubborn and most will still bike.

I go on to introduce Danish food and then the Danish Queen. I pull up a funny photo of the Danish queen and ask the students: "What do you think this grandmother is famous for? What sort of work do you think she does?"

To my huge surprise, two students get it right, and ask if she is royalty, so I show them the castle where she lives and says that they're absolutely right.

I explain that back in the old day in Korea there was a King as well, although they don't have a king anymore. Now they have a president but in Denmark we don't have a president, we have a queen.

To introduce the next famous person, I show the statue of the Little Mermaid, expecting no one to get it, when a student mumbles "mermaid". He said it very quietly, but I point to him and say: "Well done, that's exactly it! I'll show you a small video and then I think you will all know who she is."

For about three minutes the kids are watching the Korean version of "Under the Sea". At first they look unimpressed but midway through they're all enjoying it and laughing at the jokes, and they're completely quiet.

My last slide show a photo that represents the Ugly Duckling, and they all successfully guessed the name of the book, and how it was connected to Denmark. One of the students even proudly stood up and recited three other works by Hans Christian Andersen. He received a great thumbs up.

Finally I gave them a quiz where they had to answer yes or no by showing an X if it was wrong of an O if it was right. They got every single question right, and as promised I was about to give them the treats, but since they all got it right we decided to give it to their teacher to handle afterwards. And so I gave them a time to ask their questions. To my surprise there was a lot of questions.

They really asked a great bunch of questions.

"Why do Danish people prefer to ride Bikes rather than drive?"

"How many school are there in all of Denmark?"

"Are there really only two famous people in Denmark?"

"Is Disney Danish too? Then how did they make the Little Mermaid?"

"Why does it rain so much in Denmark?"

And other intelligent questions. Thankfully I could answer all of their questions, and there was only one where I to tell them that something like that did not exist in Denmark and that it was a Chinese concept that we do not use in Europe.

I came out of there feeling like a freaking King.

I had completely forgot that I was presenting to kids. I focused on each individual kid answering during my presentation and ignored the crowd. As I was speaking I was always listening if they were saying something and finding the good students and correct answers to praise them for doing well. I think the kids enjoyed themselves too, and many of them looked like they learnt a lot.

The bike thing was a serious fascination for them. And the fact that the "mountain of the heavens" was only the size of a tall building.

And now the presentation is done and I am feeling very proud of myself.

My other presentation, my class presentation, is tomorrow. I have finished my powerpoint. It's a newspaper article presentation, meaning that I had to find a newspaper article relevant to the next chapter we will study in our book, and then present that to the class.

This one is challenging for different reasons. The vocabulary is more difficult. It has words like: Yearly revenue, Marketing strategies, Manufacturers, etc. But after finishing the presentation for the kids, I am no longer worried.

I will do just fine.

In other news, last Friday I got my last result from my midterms. I did very well on my Speaking Test, despite what I thought, and I think this is more a testament to my teacher's sense of righteousness and kindness than it is to my actual performance on the day. My teacher knows that I can do well, but maybe my autocorrect mouth also did okay. In any case, I have passed with good grades and I just need to do the same with the Final Exam.

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