This week at Kangsin Middle School was very unique in that we had not one, but TWO, special events. First, the school talent show was on Tuesday. Now, you’re probably thinking: “Hmm, talent show. Maybe an hour or two event after school. Very low key. Some sloppy lip-syncing and a kid juggling fruit.” Well, you probably already guessed that isn’t accurate, and it isn’t. To begin with, all classes were canceled and the talent show was held during the day. Students were still required to come to school, of course, but were allowed to wear their street clothes to school as opposed to their uniforms. This titillated them.
For the talent show, the students were all herded into the gym, which looks surprisingly similar to an American middle school gym, and they sat on the ground facing the stage. The teachers all sat in the back on stools. Every event in Korea has an opening ceremony and a closing ceremony, and the talent show was no exception. Both the principal and the vice principal gave a speech and the Korean national anthem was sung. The actual talent show was very good. I mean, I was genuinely impressed by almost all of the acts. It opened with the school recorder band (yes, THOSE recorders – the ones we all played in elementary school) and continued with singers, dancers, and more musicians. The dancing groups, by the way, were surprisingly risque, with sets of girls shaking quite vigorously to all the contemporary k-pop songs – starkly contrasted to the conservative feel of Korea, in general.
As a special treat for the students, a group of high school girls were invited to come dance to close out the talent show. I don’t think they were actually professional dancers, but they were that good – and the students absolutely lost their minds when they performed. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera to the talent show because, well, I didn’t know it was going to be a talent show. When I asked what was going on that day, my co-teachers explained it by saying, “It’s a day for students to demonstrate great skill!” I didn’t know what I thought was going to happen – maybe a spelling bee – but I certainly didn’t get ‘talent show’ out of that.
But that’s okay, because I brought my camera for SPORTS DAY! Yes, Tuesday was the talent show, but Thursday was sports day! Again, classes were canceled for this special celebration. The only thing that might be semi-equivalent to sports day in America might be field day at an elementary school, but taken to a whole new level. Sports day took place in the enormous dirt field in front of the school. After an opening ceremony, of course, each class of students sat in a designated section around the field, forming a giant box. Each class sat on their own section of blankets and played various games as they watched the main events take place in the middle. The main events included relay races, jumping rope, and hula hooping.
For the rope jumping, students competed as a class to see who could jump the most times consecutively without screwing up.
However, the MAIN main event was the tug-of-war tournament.
Ah yes, tug-of-war. And it was serious business. Students had special rope-tugging gloves, and the thrill of victory was outweighed emotionally only by the agony of defeat. Hands were burned. Strength was tested. Champions were crowned. And to cap sports day off? A tug-of-war competition between teachers and parents. That’s right, the teachers, including me, faced off with all of the parents who came to watch. We faced off twice, with the teachers winning once and the parents winning once. The best part of this was high-fiving the vice-principal (I went in for the chest bump but he looked confused).
The real treasure of these two days, however, was getting to interact with the students outside of the classroom. It was very interesting and entertaining to see the students let loose for two days. The fun of the events even gave them the courage to try to speak to me. Teaching at my school can be lonely business sometimes. I stand out like a sore thumb. There’s a language divide, yes, but there’s also a cultural divide. But for two days this week, some of that was forgotten, and maybe I’m just starting to realize how valuable it is to tear that wall down. The problem is I feel like I’ve been given a chisel to tear down the Great Wall of China.
I guess for now I’ll have to settle for them shouting, “Teacher! Teacher! Picture! Picture!” as some form of bonding.