Thursday, June 28, 2007

Teacher, there is war today

When I went into my first class, Basic 5, on Monday, the kids were all talking (more like yelling at me) in rapid broken English like they usually do. After I got them calmed down, a few students who sit up at the front of the room near my desk started mentioning war.
One girl, Lynn who speaks very well, looked right at me and very calmly said, "Teacher, there is war today." Several students immediately chimed in, "Yes, teacher, yes. Today is war." Somewhat puzzled I asked where. "In Korea" they all replied right away. I am starting to get a little nervous. This is news to me.
"Where in Korea?" I asked. This set off frantic gesturing and a strange mix of mumbled English and Korean. To help them out I offered, "DMZ? 38?" They got excited by my answer, "Yes, teacher, yes!" To clarify some more I ask, "Fighting with North?" "Yes, teacher, yes. North and South fighting." Now I'm starting to panic a little. Surely if there was war today, I would have heard something about it or even heard the airplanes or bombs themselves. Our city is less than an hour away from Seoul on the subway and Seoul is only 30 miles from the DMZ.
My mind was quickly going through all the possibilities. Did they mean military drills? Those are quite common, but no, the kids were insisting that this was actual war between North and South. Did the North do something crazy? If so, why we were still in school? And why were the kids so calm about the whole thing?
Finally, I realized that my kids were referring to the start of the Korean War - on June 25, 1950. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, I laughed and tried to explain to my students my mistake. Given their English level, I'm not quite sure they understood. My older and more advanced students definitely understood when I explaned the event to them and they found it quite humorous, as I do now. Technically, the war has not ended so every day I am living in a war country, although thankfully there is no outright fighting involved.

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