I'd say I'm a somewhat rare 23-year-old in that up until this year, I had never spent a birthday completely away from home. Throughout college my birthday always fell right around the beginning of spring break, so even when my birthday was technicaly spent at school I would have a smaller family celebration a few days later. About a month ago, it occurred to me that this year I was completely on my own, away from not only my family but all the people I had grown close to in college. I assumed that I would spend the day quietly, probably have cake with my host family, maybe bring a small treat to school to share with other people. I wasn't really comfortable with the idea of broadcasting my birthday around school.
Well, imagine my surprise when my birthday turned out to be one of my best days in Korea so far, and one of my best birthday ever.
At the beginning of the semester, during my first classes with my new first-grade students, I told them when my birthday was, figuring I could at least wring a couple of "happy birthday"s out of them on the day of. I also told my Conversation Club when we were talking about our favorite parts of spring. So I knew going into school that I had told a fair number of my students, and that some might even remember.
The day started with a box of cookies from one of my new first-graders (an absolutely adorable girl with freckles and huge glasses) and her mother, who happens to be one of the other English teachers at my school. I had a good morning, and a lot of my students wished me happy birthday in the hallways. I love talking with my students, and there's nothing quite like the feeling of being looked up to and appreciated by them. Anyway, so far, it had been a good day and about what I expected.
Then came my daily lunchtime Conversation Club. In the room where we meet and talk everyday, the students had written "Happy Birthday Anna!" on the whiteboard. I shared the Thin Mints my parents had mailed to me (another great birthday surprise!) and just as we were settling down to talk about our topic of the day, they turned off the lights and started the real party, complete with a birthday cake and gift - perhaps the best gift I've ever gotten. All of my Club students, whom I've gotten to know very well over the past seven months, had written letters to me. The letters were perfectly representative of my students - intelligent, funny, incredibly sweet. I seriously almost started crying, because even though I'm still far from a good teacher, I love teaching my kids and hope I've been able to help them, even a little bit. My great day continued the very next period, when I walked into one of my all-girl first-grade classes to a a chorus of "Happy Birthday."
That afternoon I had my second birthday cake of the day with the other teachers at my school. I had brought the cake to share with them, and it was a great chance to chat with some teachers whom I haven't spoken to much due to the language barrier. See, not only do I have awesome and friendly students, but awesome and friendly co-workers, too.
I went home that afternoon and took a much-needed nap, but not before receing gifts from my host sisters - a datebook and a mirror, both heavily adorned with the color pink and an almost illegal levelf cuteness. I love them. After my nap, my host family ordered pizza for - having decided that surely the American needs pizza on her birthday in lieu of the traditional Korean seaweed soup. I also had my third birthday cake of the day (see, if you reach three cakes in one day, you've automatically had a great, if not awesome, birthday.) If my Club students gave me one of the better presents I've ever gotten, my 4-year-old host brother sang me the best version of "Happy Birthday" I've ever heard. He sang the first two lines in English, but he didn't know the rest of the words, so he switched to Korean halfway through. He then, of course, decided that it was his job to blow out all the candles for me, and I was laughing too hard to sneak in and get even one of them myself. The entire scene was adorable and all-around fantastic.
And that is the story of my best birthday ever. It wasn't overblown, but it was sweet and fun, and really reminded me how lucky I am to be surrounded by the people in my life right now. It also reminded me of when I was young and would think about how cool a total surprise party would be. And surprise parties are great - but it's even better, I learned, to make your birthday special yourself. I'm so glad I brought the cake for the teachers to share, because it was me inviting them to share my "important" day with me, and that I told my students about my birthday. That way, we got to have some fun together and make it more than just a boring day at school for everyone involved.
Thanks, Korea. I definitely won't forget my 23rd birthday - even though I'm technically 24 in Korean years. (No, I don't completely understand it either.)