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Surprise Hiking in the Korean Countryside

Last week my travel school students, whom I had not seen in three weeks, took me hiking, even though I showed up to their school in my usual work skirt and pantyhose. It may be more accurate to say that I was guilted into hiking by the other teachers, though, since low English level ten-year-olds are just not that convincing.

Once we had all painted on our sunscreen and slipped into hiking boots, myself excluded, everyone walked together along the huge river my bus barrels alongside every Tuesday. Even the youngest kids were stopping to take pictures of birds in the trees & bugs on the ground, and to look at the fish in the tributaries along the trail. Since we were missing English class that day, I spoke a seemingly random mix of Korean and English, as I tried to both teach and communicate with my students at the same time, some of which backfired when they laughed at me for still-unknown reasons. I can only assume that a crawfish was doing a hilarious dance behind me, and returned to the water only when I turned around.

One of my two third graders is particularly interested in my class, so she stuck by my side most of the morning, and we chatted in Engrean (English + Korean), consulting each other when we forgot a word, and conducting quizzes in our native tongues. We all walked for maybe an hour and a half in total, but by the time I returned to the tiny school, I desperately needed to wet some toilet paper and take an airport bath before lunch. Luckily I remembered to bring my own sunscreen, or I’d have been following my bath up with a lotion mask.

I have to admit that despite all of my sweating and panting (in that order), it was a lovely hike on a path that I had been meaning to trek up one day; I’m very glad I didn’t let my clothes stop me from experiencing it. And near the end, with the other teachers much further ahead, one of the third graders accidentally hit the fourth grade girl on the back of the head with a stick, and boy did I feel better comforting her in Korean than I would have had attempting to communicate with her in English. Though in all, it would’ve been nicer had nobody hit anybody else at all. She quickly recovered, but she ran ahead of the others for the last bit of the hike.

I see these mountains every day and yet it still took nearly eight months and some pressure from my students to go and explore even just one of them. I think this will be remembered as my first real Korean hike, as well as the one that brought my freckles out for the summer. The views were beautiful, and everyone got to take advantage of truly perfect weather in a country that is going to start drowning in heat next month. All I can say is bring on the picnics in the shade. It is finally watermelon season, after all.

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