Last Friday, I thought it was odd that my host mom and my co-teacher both brought up H1N1 at different times throughout the day. And now, every time I eat, drink or come in the apartment, I have to wash my hands.
I think the Korean government is telling people to avoid contact with Americans. Several of my ETA friends have to get their temperatures checked before school every day. One ETA actually had her desk in the nurses office for a while (the nurse made camp somewhere else). My own personal favorite: my host dad told me to stay out of the States for 10 years. (Don't worry, he was kidding. But I think they were honestly worried about me going back during the year)
The cause is clear: last week another English teaching program - EPIK - sent over 600 Americans to teach English throughout Korea (mostly in rural elementary and middle schools). Imagine, 600 Americans from all parts of the country dragging themselves, their luggage and sometimes their pets through every airport in America. Yeah. I'm sure it's them.
But, a white person is a white person. And we definitely stand out. I told my co-teacher (and tried to tell my family) that H1N1 is just another flu. It kills the same number, if not less, than the normal flu. The only difference is that (1) there is no vaccine [but it's coming!] and (2) it spreads very rapidly. But I feel like I'm whispering in a loud room; they don't really seem to get it. The most I can do is shrug and hope that my quaint little farm village stays keeps their cool and doesn't make me teach in a mask.
Okay, now for a few humorous vignettes:
1) An English teacher at school mentioned that she was hosting an American who was studying at a University (which one, I have no idea. But I'm thrilled at the chance to meet another American!). She said that he is really interested in learning Korean and asked if I had any materials that would be helpful. The thing is, she kept asking for vocab sheets, but pronounced it "shits." Therefore, I had a hard time keeping my cool face when she asked if I "had the shits at school."
2) The P.E. teacher is a chain smoker. :)
3) When people sneeze, they just sneeze. No one says, "Bless you" or anything like that. I never really thought of myself as a "blesser," but it's honestly really really weird to not hear any sort of acknowledgment after a sneeze.
4) A group of students (all boys) wait for me every day at the edge of the school driveway just to see me on a scooter. When I pull in around the corner they all cheer. And when the see me in the hall, they say, "Vroom, vroom!" and twist their wrists (like how you accelerate a motorcycle). Yeah, I'm a celebrity.
5) My host dad saw me running one afternoon. When I came back, he made me sit down and he gave me a very serious lecture on running on the street with my headphones. This one actually really got under my skin. Running is my thing. DON'T mess with my thing. I've got 5+ years of city street running under my belt. I know how to handle cars, roads and intersections. Gurye and the 17 autmotive vehichles inching along at 10 mph is very much manageable. But anyway, I have to run a quarter mile away before putting on my headphones.
6) One of my lessons this week is on tongue twisters. One group wrote: "Dirty dead dogs are delicious." Another wrote, "She's so sexy she sings." Oh high schoolers.
7) The most important one: I found the new faculty bathroom. Check out the toilet! (By the way, you can only imagine how hard it was for me to take these pictures without looking like a weirdo)