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.
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.
Being thrown in head first and learning to teach is a bit rough - but no one said there was no reward. Last Wednesday the principal, 지경진 Ji gyeong gin asked what my favorite Korean food was and if I would like to go to dinner. I of course had no plans so yes, i'd love to go. The Chinese character teacher, 임동향 Im dong hyang and biology teacher 강병권 jang byeong gwon joined us for Galbi (korean bbq - again cooked at your table over hot coals) various side dishes, rice, and of course some Soju.
I could not be happier to be free from the dorm living and cafeteria food. Although I made some great friends at orientation and am now miles away from them I am confident that I will keep in touch and see those that mean something to me. The last few days of orientation were more of the same, lectures about how to be a good teacher and survive in this country and more bland, not too authentic Korean food. The last lecture my class had was a short Taekwondo class and it was probably one of my favorites. The instructors were awesome and you could tell they really appreciated us being here to teach. I really underestimated how grateful a majority of the country is that we are coming here to teach. I hadn't thought about it as being a big deal but the more I realize this the happier I am that I'm here.