There are many ways in which I am certainly beginning to adopt facets of Korean culture. However, at least once a day, there is something that makes my being a foreigner absolutely blatant. For instance, each time a student sneezes and I impulsively say “bless you”, I receive a confused and uncomfortable glance. Or there was the time I gave in to my Nebraska-like nature and attempted to greet a coworker with a hug, only to be openly rejected. In Korea, foreigners are referred to as “Waygooks.” My waygook-ness manifests itself in many ways. But nothing made it more obvious than last week as I taught my students about Halloween.
Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Korea. So, as a person who would define herself as a Halloween entusiast, I took it upon myself to share the joy of Halloween with all of my students. And by “share the joy” I mostly mean give all of them candy so that they love me more. I planned elaborate lesson plans that involved candy, games, and video clips from my favorite Halloween movies. I was worried that showing Nightmare Before Christmas to some of my younger students my be too scary for them, but I was assured by my Coteacher that it would be okay. This was proven to me when he decided to show Insidious, a movie that scared the shit out of me as a college freshman, to a group of 2nd and 4th graders. As I cowered at my desk, the little kids laughed.
My Halloween parties included some of my most favorite teaching moments so far. The kids were so excited to learn about Halloween. And the more questions they asked, the more I realized how strange Halloween actually is. Nonetheless, we had a great time. I allowed my students to perform tricks to win candy. This included a performance of Korea’s National Anthem that had me doubled over in laughter. Along with this were many Kpop dances, Tae Kwon Do demonstrations, and a group of 6th graders who thought their best bet at winning candy was just to compliment me. My favorite is tied between the girl who said “Sam Teacher is beautiful like a flower” and the boy who said “Sam Sam, will you marry me?”
It became completely apparent to me last week that Halloween in the US is different than Halloween anywhere else. As my fellow American friends and I recounted our Halloweens past, Koreans, and even non-American foreigners didn’t really seem to get the hype. As my Coteacher put it, “So, you just get drunk and eat candy in a costume?” Though I found it hard all week to explain why, to me, Halloween is a very important holiday. And, to me, it doesn’t get much better than drinking and eating candy while in costume.
Before I came here, I predicted that the times I would miss home most would be over Holidays. But during Halloween, I found this to be untrue. There is something to be said about growing up in a country that celebrates Halloween so intensely. There is a comfort in the pumpkin patch visits, elaborate decorations, and unspoken acceptance of ridiculous Halloween shenanigans. There is something special about the weird Halloween traditions we so blindly put on every year. But there is something even more special about getting to share those weird traditions with my Korean students.