Korea: Sonsaengnim Sonsaengnim


Posing next to my poem.


My tiny school, Oyu Middle School is a rural school but every year they put on a Literary Festival. I returned less than a month before this Festival happened in mid-May and was informed I had to write a poem for the event. I foolishly thought that meant every teacher and student would be writing their own poem but when it came time for the recital I think mine was the only original.



Decking out the Oyu grounds with poem upon poem.


It turned into a fairly major project, as can be seen above, as the school was scrubbed to sparkling inside while outside copies of the poems were printed off and then carefully (well, these are young teens so… haphazardly) hung throughout the grounds for those who attended the event. It wasn’t a great number of people but Korean don’t seem to do things by half-measures. It’s all out or not at all.  That can prove rewarding or frustrating, depending on what is being asked or expected of you.

Once we returned inside the school for the ‘slam poetry’ portion of the day, they called my name and I recited my poem.

Here’s the poem.

Sonsaengnim Sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님



안녕 하세요

Sonsaengnim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

Nice to meet you

Sonsaengnim, sonsaengnim 선생님 선생님

Nice to greet you


kimchi, saemgabsal, waygook, sagwa

김치, 삼겹살, 외국, 사과

kyebibo, wae, bulgogi, chincha

가위바위보, 왜, 불고기, 진짜


Sonsaengnim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

How do you do?

Sonsaengim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

I see you.


hanguk, won, ajoshi, jimjilbang

한국 , 원, 아저씨, 찜질방

hanbok, baliwa, bap, noraebang

한복, 빨리와, 밥, 노래방


Sonsaengnim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

Speak slower

Sonsaengnim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

Teach us more!


yogi, anja, namja, ajumma

여기, 안자, 남자, 아줌마

jogi, assa, yoja, ne, oma

저기, 아싸, 여자, 네, 엄마


Sonsaengnim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

What are you saying?

Sonsaengnim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

Why aren’t we playing!


odi, chingu, soju, gimbap

어디, 친구, 소주, 김밥

namu, chego, maekju, bibimbap

나무, 최고의, 맥주, 비빔밥


Sonsaengnim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

Where are have you been?

Songsaengnim, sonsaengnim

선생님 선생님

What have you seen?


Korean anniyo

한국 아니요

English josseyo

영어 주세요





The ‘story’ of the poem is about a teacher, that’s what sonsaengnim means in Korean, who doesn’t know much Korean but has picked up some words. The rhyming chorus is meant to be students asking their new teacher questions. It succeeded as best it could I suppose, as it garnered a few laughs from the students and adults in attendance.

A final note about the poem (pictured above and below) is that the artwork was done by the Vice-Principal Mr. Kim. One of three Mr. Kims at the school. I believe his name is Kim Song Ro and he’s actually a very talented artist in his own right. I felt honoured he suggested they put his artwork with my poetry.


Attempting to look artistic. Note Mr. Kim’s artwork.

The poem plays with sounds; both Korean and English and relies heavily upon some of the first words that foreigners (waygooks) learn when they arrive here. What I did for the benefit of the poem being on the page instead of heard is included the Hangul and the English phonetic version of the words.

For someone like me it was about as good a way to introduce myself and my personality to a new group of students, colleagues and adults as I could imagine.



When Sung Tae attacks!


At least, until Sung Tae leeched onto me and ruined it all!

(He didn’t, I just happened to need an excuse to include that picture of me, him, the poems and some of the other students.)


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