By Amy Munslow
South Korea: the land of delicious Kimchi (김치), crooning K-pop stars, and frequent themed holidays. From Pepero Day on November 11th (a day for exchanging Pepero candy, similar to Valentine’s Day), to Children’s Day on May 5th (a day to celebrate children, usually with activities and gifts), I was constantly learning about new Korean holidays throughout my first year teaching English at a South Korean academy.
Don’t be fooled by the classroom decorations, themed snacks, and cheerful smiles: teachers don’t love holidays nearly as much as you think they do. After trudging through a day’s lessons with emotionally charged students, it’s little wonder why teachers breathe a sigh of relief when they finally exit the school parking lot on a day of “celebration.”
My classroom was a finely tuned, well-oiled machine that ran brilliantly on a regular schedule. There was a relaxed flow to each day that started with vocabulary practice and ended with project presentations: students knew what was expected of them at each stage, and were typically model learners, eager to please and quick to learn. On most days, I was in awe of my students’ work ethic and ability to focus, even after their long day at public school.
Holidays were an exception to this rule. My students loved holidays, but they didn’t always love learning English on holidays. Here’s an English teacher’s guide to surviving (and even enjoying) an upcoming Korean holiday: White Day.
White Day: March 14th
What is it? Originating in Japan, White Day is an opportunity for men to express gratitude for the lovely ladies in their life by giving special gifts like candy, cards, or stuffed animals. It’s considered a couple’s holiday, but
platonic friends and co-workers may also give or receive tokens of friendship on White Day. Men: make sure that you reciprocate any gift that you received a month ago, on Valentine’s Day. In fact, common expectations require you to outdo a woman’s gift, spending at least twice on her as she did on you (though I’m not sure how strictly this rule is followed in practice). It’s probably better to be safe and spring for the nicer chocolates.
When is it celebrated? White Day is celebrated one month after Valentine’s Day, on March 14th. This means men have a convenient month to prepare after their special day on February
14th. In South Korea (unlike America), each half of a couple gets their own day of love. From my outsider’s perspective, it seemed that many couples really spoiled each other on these days, with gifts, treats, and fancy restaurant dinners. It’s like a second birthday!
At the store, you’ll see: White gifts everywhere! From white marshmallows to soft white stuffed toys to lollipop bouquets, you may think that your local E-Mart has experienced a pink and white chocolate and candy explosion. White Day is a major consumer holiday, brilliantly dreamed up by the candy industry in Japan, where the holiday originated. The bonus is that you don’t have to see Easter-themed Peeps in stores on February 15th, but the drawback is that there are a solid three months of heart-shaped mementos staring at you from each and every storefront.
Expect that your students may: …be filled with that distinctive romantic anticipation that crosses cultural boundaries. Remember that feeling of hope (and fear) that your heart’s desire just might notice you on a calendar day specially saved for love? Your students may feel the same way. Even the most love-adverse students will most likely be hopped up on too much sugar. Get ready for some classroom management issues, and plan an extra-engaging lesson for White Day. The best part of the holiday for me was the yummy treats left on my desk by sweet students.
Prepare for this holiday by: If you’re a male, pick up some chocolates or candies for your female co-workers (especially if you have Korean co-workers), and students. You’ll score extra points with your thoughtful gesture! If you happen to have a Korean girlfriend or wife, the expectations may be a little higher. Don’t forget to make a dinner reservation and purchase a White Day gift. It’s very unlikely that this holiday will sneak up on you unexpectedly, because every store, spa, café, and restaurant will have White Day-themed products and services. For women, you’re in luck! It’s time to sit back and be pampered.
After work, you should: …not expect to sit down at a nice restaurant. Each table will be occupied with glassy-eyed lovebirds, taking adorable “couple selfies” and giggling over their food. If you don’t happen to be one half of a couple celebrating White Day, this will probably be an excellent night for some take-out kimchi and rice
(김치덮밥) and a quick stop at E-Mart for some adorably packaged candies. Don’t fret if you didn’t receive any gifts: on April 14th, there’s a day especially for single people called “Black Day.” Single men and women get together with their single friends to eat jajangmyeon (자장면), a tasty noodle dish with a dark soybean sauce.
Despite high-strung students and candy wrappers strewn about your classroom floor, White Day in Korea is definitely a fun and unique experience, and one that you’ll enjoy recounting for family and friends back home.