This morning I taught my very first class at Sogang University. I’ve been looking forward to this day for quite some time, and I’ve been preparing for ages. Usually, when I’m teaching a new class I’m always a bit nervous, but somehow today was different. I felt oddly at home in the tiny Korean classroom, and all the students politely greeted me with a bow when they came in. I’m also used to struggling with the computer and the projector whenever I enter a new classroom for the first time, but in this case my sweet teaching assistant was there to take care of everything for me. She made sure that my laptop was connected, that the slides were printed, that the board was clean, and that there was plenty of chalk. She also took attendance, so I literally just had to stand there and deliver my lecture.
The classroom was a lot smaller than what I am used to. Back home I’ve never taught a class smaller than 150 people, obviously requiring very spacious facilities and me wearing a mic. Here, there were just under 30 students, and just one blackboard. The fun thing was that even though it was so small, there was still a small podium just beneath the board, so I felt like I was standing on a stage.
I was surprised when a bell sounded, signaling that the class should start (no wonder, people sometimes call Sogang University “Sogang High”), but I took the sign, closed the door and began my lecture. Luckily I have four years of experience teaching this course, so I felt very comfortable with the material. I was careful not to speak too fast and to explain concepts in plain terms mixed with Korean, much to the delight of the students. They seemed shy at first, but they lightened up when they were exposed to my geeky professor jokes.
In economics we like to say “There are no free lunches”. I also taught my students this concept this morning, but added that I’d come to change that perception after coming to Korea. After all, going out for lunch with senior colleagues every day means that there is in fact nothing but “free lunches.” This had them laugh out loud, and it got even better, when I added that in some way, I still had to pay by spending 30 minutes in the company of old Korean men telling ajusshi jokes – a concept known in Korea as 아재개그. This joke landed perfectly! The guys also seemed to appreciate my illustration of marginal cost and utility using the Korean liquor soju as an example. By the end of the class, I actually had them answer some of my questions, which they had been too shy to answer in the beginning.
Nothing warms the heart of a teacher more than when you feel that you have truly reached your students. I definitely felt so this morning, and I can’t wait to teach my next class on Thursday.
For those of you unfamiliar with 아재개그 I’ll include a few examples here. They are essentially just extremely lame Korean word plays or puns, or what we’d usually call a “dorky dad” joke. Don’t be ashamed if you find them funny. I myself laughed harder than I care to admit.