Waters Today: We can’t believe this is your second time teaching during a pandemic. What are the odds of that?! Can you compare the two experiences?
Mrs. Berezka-Zuniga: The biggest difference is most definitely the mask culture. Many people in South Korea wear masks even when it is not a pandemic. For example, many people prefer to wear masks in the spring while walking outside when there is lots of allergens and pollution in the air. Others wear masks when they have the common cold to prevent them from spreading it. I was living in Korea for at least a year before the MERS outbreak hit. Since I had seen masks being worn all around me for quite some time, I was very comfortable wearing one. It was so important to me to protect others and myself there while I was a guest teacher.
Pandemic aside, what's the biggest difference between teaching here vs. in Asia?
Schools in East Asia are really formal. The students bow to their teachers before class begins and when class ends. That was really new for me! Students must call their teacher by their title, so I wasn’t called Ms. Berezka, I was called 선생님 Lia (Teacher Lia.) Finally—as my class knows— I have to talk about FOOD! School staff, teachers, and students eat the same meal at the same time in the cafeteria. I loved learning about new food and dining traditions along with my coworkers and students. I miss the long table filled with students and the silver trays full of delicious 반찬 (side dishes).
It sounds like you've traveled pretty extensively! If you could take your students on a field trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
My class loves adventure and life science so I would take them to one of my favorite islands: Palawan, Philippines. We could explore an underwater cave, find macaques Monkeys hanging from trees, get spooked by a monitor lizard, snorkel to see beautiful coral, and still have time for a freshly grilled fish lunch with mango!
That sounds amazing—we’ll chaperone! Did you grow up somewhere far-flung?
Although my dad is from Poland and my mom is from the Philippines, I was actually born in Chicago and am a product of Chicago Public Schools! I went to an elementary school that is extremely diverse—lots of my classmates spoke a second language. Maybe that is where my love for international food and language came from! I really have to give my elementary and high school CPS teachers my respect and appreciation. Their practice most definitely inspired me to become a teacher myself. THANK YOU, TEACHERS!
Is it safe to assume you’ve always wanted to be a teacher?
Yes! And what I love most about teaching at Waters is the connections I’ve built with students, families, and staff. I have never physically met anyone at Waters...yet! However, I feel that we’ve built incredibly strong relationships despite all the challenges. It is clear that Waters is a community with strong collaborative relationships and I am honored to be a part of that! Special shout-out to my students and families for being there every step of the way!
Sounds like you have a lot of catching up to do when we’re all back together in person! If you could give your third graders one piece of advice, what would it be?
One of my teaching mentors gave me a poster I love to hang in my classroom every year. It says: “In this class, mistakes are expected, inspected, and respected.” Mistakes mean you tried, you took a risk, and you learned. That is a beautiful thing. I think we need to appreciate our mistakes, too!
We love that so much. What do you like to do when you're not teaching?
You can find me spending time with my daughter and husband, hunting for vintage treasures, cooking up a storm, reading about my next travel adventure, or watering my house plant collection. (It is slowly turning into a jungle in here!)
Anything your students would be surprised to learn about you?
I’ve spent more time behind the wheel of a motorbike than behind the wheel of a car! Also: I may or may not sometimes play “Animal Crossing.” :)
Fun! Thank you so much Mrs. Berezka-Zuniga—we can’t wait to meet you in person!