Not quite the answer I was looking for

I have recently begun teaching English to adults here in Ottawa.  It’s been a bit of a steep learning curve- no singing, no dancing, and no stickers.  The upside is that my students don’t punch each other or cry if they lose interest, or don’t understand.

At the moment, my class is made up entirely of Libyans.  The Libyan Embassy is across the street, and so my class is made up of the daughters, wives, and sons of Libyan diplomats.  It’s fascinating; I’m learning LOTS about Libya.

Over the past few weeks, various locations in Canada have come up in conversation but my students have not known where they were in relation to Ottawa; they have a very, very limited sense of Canadian geography. Not that I judge them; I have a very, very limited sense of Libyan geography.

This week, I decided to spend the last few minutes of class labelling a map of Canada.  Nothing major, just the provinces, territories, and the oceans on either side.

“Is no Libya,” one of my students muttered, pushing the map back at me across the desk.

“Well done!” I exclaimed brightly. “It’s not Libya! Gold star for you!”

“No Libya, no interesting,” he returned, impervious to my sarcasm.

“How wrong you are!” I replied in an overly cheerful voice, determined to teach them something, anything about the country they would be living in for the next 4 years. “Canada is very interesting!”

My students may not have understood my exact words but they got the tone.  We were going to label the map or die trying.  Sighing and muttering in Arabic, they picked up their pencils and looked at with barely concealed resignation.  I couldn’t really blame them.  Does anyone really want to learn how to spell Saskatchewan?

I gulped, suddenly nervous.  I had made a rather large claim: Canada is interesting!  And it is but how do you explain extraordinary natural resources and multiculturalism to people who had trouble with the days of the week in English?

Slowly but surely, we made our way across Canada.  One student had a cousin in Vancouver so British Columbia was covered.  Another had lived in Fredericton for a few months so we could cross off New Brunswick.  Gradually we named all the provinces except Manitoba. And there I drew a blank.  What was interesting about Manitoba?  It had the world’s coldest intersection but I wasn’t sure my charade skills were up to that.  What else was there?

Mosquitoes.  I had a vague memory of hearing about great clouds of mosquitoes in Manitoba.  I wrote mosquitoes on the board but no one knew the word.  I buzzed and flapped my arms.

“Honey?” suggested one of my students.

Finally I drew this Picasso-esque mosquito.


“Is no mosquito. Is RPG,” came a small voice from the back.  It was an elderly student who I could have sworn was deaf and mute.  I’d never heard her make any sort of sound in English or Arabic, and she’d never reacted to anything I’d ever said or done.

“Is what?” I replied weakly, hoping RPG meant something else in Arabic.

“Is RPG! Teacher, you know!  RPG!” she explaimed as if I had rocks for brains. “RPG!  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…. [insert explosion noise here]!!!!!”

The entire class perked up, and began making what I assumed to be RPG noises.  Never having seen or heard one, I can’t be quite sure.  They appeared to be part of daily life in Libya though if my students’ reactions were anything to go by.

A young man at the front of the class put up his hand, and using the sentence pattern I had been trying to teach them all week said, “Teacher! In Manitoba, there are RPG mosquitoes!”

And where could I go from there? Absolutely nowhere. How do you top rocket-propelled grenade mosquitoes?

“Goodbye everybody, see you tomorrow.”



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 Canada, Education, Life, Teaching English, Uncategorized, Work and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Not quite the answer I was looking for

  1. Haha! 😀 Must be challenging but entertaining!

  2. Ceri says:

    Oh the joys of being a teacher. Haha. You’re a much better drawer than me though. My students laugh at my sketches every time.

  3. Rhea says:

    Hi Carrie,

    I know you’ve already left Korea but I am hoping to get your insight on schooling for my daughter. My family is moving to Ulsan in a few weeks weeks and I am in quite a dilemma. We’ve been advised to enroll her in an international school however the tuition is crazy expensive (USD 45,000 in tuition and fees per year!!!). I am considering either putting her in a public school or home-schooling her instead. Home-schooling would obviously be the more economical choice but I would like her to be able to experience the culture and socialize with children her age. My only concern with public schools is the language barrier. My daughter speaks English and French. She doesn’t know a word of Korean, but I would like her to learn. Do you think, based on your experience, that she would be able to cope in a public school? How much or little English do public school children and teachers speak? Is there anything that I should prepare her for (other than the possible culture shock coming from Canada)? Any advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Carrie K says:

      Gosh…. I’m not really sure. How old is she? Kids learn languages so fast… Are you there for a long time? It sure would be an adventure! 😀 Are you on Facebook? There is a group called Ulsanonline that can be very helpful. I know there are several parenting groups associated with Ulsan Online that would probably be able to answer your questions. I had no idea international schools were so expensive! From my experience, Korean teachers will try their hardest to be helpful to you and your daughter but I would expect an initially frustrating experience for everyone. It’s a hugely different culture. Does that help at all?

      • Rhea says:

        Thank you, I will look into that Facebook group. We are planning to be in Ulsan for at least three years, depending on how the job goes. She is 12 and just finished Grade 6 in Canada so would be going to middle school if I were to enroll her in the International School. I just can’t fathom paying that much for elementary education! I’m thinking maybe I’ll home school and get her a Korean teacher for the first term and then put her in the Korean school system in the second term. I don’t want to seem ignorant, but do public school teachers speak any English at all? I’ve been through some expat websites and they make it sound like public schools (teachers and students) do not speak any English. I have no doubt that my daughter will learn Korean quickly enough, and yes, I’m guessing it would initially be a very frustrating experience. However, she is well travelled enough and have played with kids whom she did not have a language commonality with.

      • Carrie K says:

        I think that in many parts of Korea a lack of English at school is a problem but Ulsan has a large foreigner population. Plus there is at least one foreign teacher (like me!) at every school. I never had any problems communicating. No huge problems anyway! 😀 Just be patient. I find the younger teachers speak quite a bit of English, it’s trendy.
        Korean children start studying English officially in Grade 3 but most of them have attended hogwans (cram schools- you’ll know that word very well soon. All Korean children attend them.) since they were wee. So by middle school, they’ve got enough English for basic communication at the very least. Your daughter will be cool. Everyone will want to be her friend, and to practice their English with her.
        If you are going to homeschool her, you might want to do it until Feb. The korean school year starts March 1st. And January and most of February is a holiday.

  4. Rhea says:

    Hey Carrie,

    We landed in Busan on Saturday and fell asleep in the car on the drive to Ulsan. The company told us we were living in Dong-gu, didn’t realize it was at the edge of it which turned out to be a farther drive than I expected. And I thought I did enough homework, hah! Anyway, we were met by a very nice gentleman who explained everything in the apartment, including how to operate the appliances (TV, A/C, oven, etc. – everything is in Korean!). I’m so amazed by all the technology available around here, if only I can understand the writings on them. You are so right about this being an adventure. I thought I understood language barriers, but this is a whole new level of it. Who knew buying shampoo would be such a challenge. I absolutely agree with your other post about looking at photos on labels. They can be very helpful.

    My daughter and I went for a walk with the intention of going to Homeplus the other day and got hopelessly lost. We decided to take a taxi instead and the taxi literally rounded the block and dropped us off. It turned out we were only a couple of blocks away.

    Anyway, that’s our first few days so far. I think today we’ll shoot for Costco and we’ll try to take the bus to get there! Wish us luck!

    • Carrie K says:

      I’m so very, very jealous!!! You’re going to have such a good time! you should start a blog so I can follow your adventures!!
      Taxis are awesome. They’re super cheap. The drivers are completely crazy but they’re a viable way to get around, unlike in Canada.
      Good luck!!!

      • Rhea says:

        I’m so rubbish at remembering to blog about things but I am giving it another try. I’m guessing I will have periods of writing about everything and looong periods of nothing. 🙂
        So, after realizing that every possible domain name I wanted to use were all taken, I’ve settled with

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s