I've been on and off living in Korea for nearly four of the last six years, which according to many of my friends means, "My Korean must be so good". While I would love for this to be true, it's not. I could list all of the excuses, coming and going, having waves of motivation to study, losing interest and then coming back again, but ultimately it's up to me. The number of times I've cracked open my books, only to close them again is growing too high. I found an awesome Korean Language Scholarship program a year in and a half ago, an answer to my problems. Finally, after all of the "should, next time, soon" talk, I took the plunge and here I am, first week of classes at Geumgang University.
Aesop's Fables began as life lessons for adults and later turned to stories for children, but somehow one of them has turned into a reflection of my life. Similar to The Boy Who Cried Wolf, I've found myself repeating the same story, over and over again. Six years ago I promised my family that I'd be moving to Korea for "Only one year" which became two. I was confident I was done with Korea after that, but returned again in October of 2015 (and the few visits during my travels). My year in Andong wasn't an easy one, including heartbreak, injuries and issues at work, so when I left a year later it felt like a final goodbye. But, low and behold I was wrong again, I stopped by for a wedding last April and then was pulled back for the whole summer. Long story short, I met a boy, remembered how much I love teaching here, and still wanted to learn the language. 16 entry stamps later, I'm back again, and this time there's no expiration date on my stay.
When I left the United States, bound once again for Asia, I only had a few plans on the horizon. My best friend in Korea was celebrating a milestone birthday and an ex-coworker was getting married. Being free of commitments or schedules I told them both I’d be in attendance. I thought three weeks in Korea would give me some time to regroup after roaming around Thailand, get my plans in order for the next few months, maybe fit in a few workouts and even do some writing. Exactly none of that happened though. Instead, I transformed into a social butterfly and made sure to visit as many old friends as I could, without running myself too deep into the ground. After three weeks, ten cities and roughly 20 different reunions I was longing for a vacation, but it was all worth it.
Become friends with people who aren't your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn't the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn't come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.
I had a somewhat crazy realization the other day while talking to some fellow travelers. We were all sharing our stories of where we come from, where we’ve been and where we may be going. I was telling my story as I normally do but then at one point talked about being ‘homesick’ rather than referencing my hometown of Wisconsin I found myself speaking of being homesick for Korea. You know the phrase "You don't know what you have till it's gone" well with travel this couldn't ring more true.
As I go from one country to the next I’m constantly building friendships, adapting to a new way of life and discovering new foods. As I become accustomed to these things they’re suddenly ripped away when I decide it’s time to move on and experience yet again another country. Sure, I only have myself to blame for the constant movement I must endure, but that doesn't make saying goodbye any easier.
When it was time for my four-month adventure through SE Asia to come to an end it wasn't so hard saying goodbye because I didn't actually have to go home yet. Instead, I was headed back to my second home, South Korea, to visits a few friends, pick up my belongings and say my goodbyes 'see you laters'. It was yet another early morning in Bangkok where I set out from my hostel before the sun even rose, the other girl staying in my room happened to have a flight around the same time which saved on taxi fare out to Dong Muang airport (not conveniently located on the MRT line). Actually, this stop back in Korea made leaving so much easier, as I boarded the plane my excitement grew as I knew I would soon be seeing all of my great friends and students, both of which felt more like family.
For the last two years people have been telling me what a great teacher I am, "one of the best foreign teachers I've ever worked with", but I often wondered how sincere these words were. Now, as my time in Korea is coming to an all-too-soon end I'm realizing that most of those statements were, in fact, heartfelt and I am a good teacher.
I've always seen my connection and interactions with students from one side of the glass, but over the last few days, I've been able to get a glimpse of the other side. I'm somewhat shocked by the number of students who have reached out to express their feelings towards my departure. I came across this article last week, which discusses the real impact teachers have on students and it really hit home with me. For those of you that don't want to click and read, here is a great excerpt from the article:
Your kindness. Your empathy. Your care and concern. They’ll remember that you took the time to listen. That you stopped to ask them how they were. How they really were. They’ll remember the personal stories you tell about your life: your home, your pets, your kids. They’ll remember your laugh. They’ll remember that you sat and talked with them while they ate their lunch.
Teaching English in another country is a unique and ever-changing experience, I remember being told from day 1 that there is no real way to prepare new teachers. For every incoming teacher, their city, school, co-workers and of course students are going to vary drastically. I strongly believe that it's a teachers attitude that is will determine how their career abroad unfolds. Coming in with a positive outlook, ready to take on any challenges or obstacles will help prepare them for success. There may be difficult moments full of challenging students, frustrating situations, and surprise schedule changes, ultimately making you want to throw in the towel, but the rewards are soon to follow. After spending close to two years in the classroom I'm happy to say that I've had a positive experience and wouldn't trade it for the world.
The clock in our office included a row marked "D-Day" and finally yesterday it reached 0. I'm sure most of you are confused and curious as to what i'm referring to. Yesterday was THE day, at least for the third grade high school students (seniors), it was the day that would decide their fate. You think I'm kidding? It may sound a bit extreme but trust me...
Yesterday, 660,000 students sat down to take the 9 hour college entrance exam (think ACT/SAT), hoping their years of arduous study would pay off. The results of the exam significantly impact the students future, used as the determining factor for college admissions, thus affecting their future jobs, it's a big deal.
"The most crucial test seen as a deciding factor in an applicant's choice of college and subsequent career" ~ The Korean Herald
In the months before coming to Korea I'd have to say I was a lot more focused on how I would adjust to a new apartment, culture and language - the minor detail of becoming a teacher seems to have slipped my mind. The EPIK staff and lectures gave us some great material and resources to use for the classroom, however learning how to be a teacher is usually done over more than a weeks time span
After my whirlwind vacation and a few quiet weeks in Gumi I'm back at it - time for a brand new school year. To be quite honest, I feel like I haven't taught a real class since about November of last year, so getting back into the swing of things might take some time. On the plus side, I don't have to go through the "new kid" weeks again since i'm already accustomed to my school. There are, of course, new students and teachers to meet and many changes to be had, but I think I'm ready for them all. We had the opening ceremony this morning and I got my 15 seconds of fame as applause erupted from the student body when I was introduced. I wasn't the most popular teacher of the day, however - our PE teacher 윤종태 was easily the most popular among the students, followed closely by a few of the attractive math teachers.