Initiation Through Celebration

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September 30, 2012 by travelinggrits

Today marks Korea’s largest holiday, Chuseok. On this Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, families return to their hometowns, participate in rites to honor their ancestry and share traditional food.

My students have their mid-term exams shortly after the holiday, so their concerns about studying put a damper on their excitement for the days of rest. I’m certainly grateful for three days off, but I don’t think the true spirit of the holiday has hit me yet, either. It’s only the end of September, and the usual holiday signals, like commercials, store decorations and songs on the radio, were missing from this celebration, although they did play “Home Alone” on television on Saturday.

But I did leave school with a happy heart Friday afternoon, thanks to my students. In the theme of Chuseok, I taught grade 2 about American holidays, and I concluded the lesson by having the students create their own holidays. I think I have a few secret admirers in one class, because the idea they submitted was as follows:

  1. What is your holiday name?

Christina’s Day

  1. When is your holiday?

August 24th

  1. What does your holiday celebrate?

We celebrate first Christina to come school. We remember the day when Christina came to my school.

  1. What traditions do people do on your holiday?

We wear yellow fake hair and wear costume like Christina. And we take a picture with Christina and give letter.

  1. What food do people eat?

(Here is where I was clued into their mischieviousness, as they called me over to ask what my favorite food is.)

We eat chocolate.

  1. Where do people celebrate it?

Shinpyeong Middle School

  1. Are there special holiday colors?

Yellow color

  1. Why do people celebrate your holiday?

Our school students like love Christina teacher.

  1. What do the decorations look like?

(Picture drawn of person with yellow hair labeled.)

Needless to say, this definitely brought me a few chuckles.

And later in the day, some of my first year girls approached me after class for a special presentation. I had teasingly encouraged one of them to draw a portrait of me the week before, and now she and her friends gave me the picture with the sincerity of a commissioned work of art. It’s interesting to see what they drew attention to in the portrait: my eyes, my hair, my facial shape. Studying the sketch, I saw myself as my students saw me.

I had also mentioned to one that I didn’t have a Korean name, so they told me they had conferred and made a selection. With a mix of nervousness and excitement, they pronounced my new title: 김가희 (Kim Ka He).

I looked back into upturned faces gathered around me. I felt like I had been baptized.

Do you like it? They asked. Of course, I responded. It’s beautiful.

Later on, I asked a fellow teacher if the name had any particular meaning. Well, Ka He… Is very simple, she said. Like you—when I talk to you, you seem very pure of heart. And “Ka” sometimes means “beautiful,” and “He,” something like “pleasure.” I think it fits you well.

Even a month after my arrival, there are days when I have my doubts about how successfully I’ve blended into my community through building relationships with my host family, the teaching staff and my students. But given my new Korean name,  and as I prepare to celebrate Korea’s largest holiday with my host family, maybe I’m receiving my official initiation into Korean culture.



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