Talking with Strangers

Dear Diary, I felt like a real teacher today.... I taught an after-school English conversation class to a small group of my middle school students for the past five weeks and today was our last class. To celebrate (and challenge my students), I took them to Itaewan so they could have real conversations with foreigners.

Itaewan is Foreigner City in Seoul; everyone from everywhere goes there. It is, however, mostly known for its population of American army fellas, and I can't say it has the best reputation. But I wanted foreigners and my girls wanted Itaewan, so off we went.

I was just as nervous as they were. I counted and re-counted my students everywhere. At the bus stop. On the bus. Walking to the subway. At the subway station. On the train. At the next station. After the transfer. At the station again. At the exit. I felt like a new mom. Then I worried that there wouldn't be enough foreigners hanging around and my girls wouldn't get a chance to speak. Then, if there were people, I worried they wouldn't want to talk, or worse, be rude to my girls.

I coached my girls on how to approach someone and ask them questions about Korea. Excuse me, may I take a few minutes to ask you some questions about Korea? How long have you been in Korea? Where are you from? What is your favourite Korean food? Why did you come to Korea? They were too nervous, so I offered to go first so they could watch me and listen to me. I had a short conversation with a man who luckily was not intimidated by my questions or by the flock of Korean middle school students surrounding us.

interview in progress

interview in progress

A couple of the oldest students went first. I, aware of their growing nerves, approached a woman and asked if a couple of my students could ask her a few questions. She accepted. I pushed the students towards her. The others crowded around, too. The pair asked a few questions, listened to the woman's responses, and thanked her for her time. We all breathed a sigh of relief. They did it.

Soon, the girls were approaching people on their own (always with me nearby, of course). Soon, the girls were practicing asking questions to each other when they weren't talking with foreigners. Soon, the girls realized that they could speak English well and could have a real conversation with foreigners.

I couldn't be more proud of my girls. And I couldn't be more thankful to the nice people who gave my girls the chance to talk to them.