A Whale of a Tale

For the past three weeks I have been teaching English Camp.  During every school vacation, Korean elementary and middle schools offer an English Camp.  I’m unclear on the reasons for English Camp – why can’t the students just have time off?  Schools claim the camps help improve the students’ English but I am currently teaching my sixth English Camp and I have yet to see any evidence of this. 😀

This year, I decided to do a Space theme.  My students created lovely 3D planets to hang from the ceiling:

I did try to explain the Uranus joke but something was clearly lost in translation…

It took my gutter brain a few moments to realize that this student was trying to highlight Korea on his 3D Earth….

Last week, one group of Grade 5 boys was being disruptive instead of quietly solving a puzzle like all the other groups.  I wandered over to see what the excitement was.

“Carrie-teacher! Do you know catching the whale?” I was asked with great excitement.

“Catching whales?” I repeated, wondering where the topic had come from.  “Do Korean people catch whales?”

Hysteria greeted my question.

“No, no!” one little boy sputtered, laughing so hard he almost fell off his chair.  “Catching the whale, Carrie-teacher!!!”

A new whale meat restaurant had recently opened around the corner from the school.  Perhaps that was what they were talking about?

“Do you… catchy a wh-hale in Canada?” another little boy asked in broken English.

“Well, I think it’s illegal in Canada…” I began uncertainly.  I still wasn’t certain what they were talking about.  Surely hunting whales wasn’t considered hysterically funny in Korea?

Thankfully class ended before our increasingly confusing discussion could continue.  Every question I answered seemed to make the boys even more hysterical.  Clearly I needed to find out what was going on.

“What does ‘catching the whale’ mean?” I asked my co-teacher as I entered the staffroom.

“Wha-at?” she gasped, choking on her coffee.  “Where did you here that?!”

I explained and she looked uncomfortable.

“It is when… well….it is…”

Now I was truly intrigued.

“When a man’s….. important thing… is….” her voiced failed her and she made a cutting gesture with her fingers.

“When a man’s important thing is cut…” I repeated, confused.  “OH!  Circumcision. Catching the whale is slang for getting circumcised?”

You learn something new every day! 😀

I am going to Borneo soon for a much-needed vacation and I do wonder whether Korea will still seem as strange when I come back.  After spending time in a different country, will everything continue to be funny and weird or will it just feel like home?


About Carrie K

Teacher, writer, traveller. Slightly neurotic. Overly talkative. Loving life. You can also follow me on Twitter: kimchigirl72
This entry was posted in Education, Korea, Korean schools, Taehwa, Teachers, teaching in Korea, Travel, Ulsan. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Whale of a Tale

  1. Mr. Propter says:

    It’s rather alarming to see the size of the area taken up by Korea on the map. Let’s hope this is not an explansion from the North. Note also how the expanded area is shaped like a man’s doodles, which may have led onto the conversation about catching whales.

  2. ck says:

    There’s a Moby Dick in there somewhere…

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