the first days

Sketch of Every Night

Where I’m to be found every night…

I wrote this about a week after I came, so not all of it is still true, but here are fresh memories of after I just arrived, and how I was feeling and what I was thinking.

~

I have come to Korea.

Before I left, I heard a lot of things like “Boss, Courageous, Totally Brave.” It doesn’t feel brave, to be honest. Those words hit me and fell off like nothing. I didn’t feel encouraged, I felt a bit of a sham. “It’s not brave!” I wanted to tell them. It’s not brave to go back to the side of the world where I don’t feel judged and am not pressured to conform to society. Teaching is easy for me; it would be braver and harder for me to stay in America and go through the twists and turns to get a job; Master’s, recruiters, networking, entry-levels…Maybe, on that path, money would come more quickly, but I’ve never yearned for wealth. I yearn for peace and comfort, and teaching in Korea gives me that. Or it will. It’s too new yet to be peaceful or comforting.

I arrived five days ago. I had one full day of rest to clean and organize and unpack, then it was right to work. Which is good. By Sunday afternoon I was lying on my bed trying to figure out whether to read more or just listen to music. Life without internet stretches.

I’m so incredibly lucky in my arrangement. I have a friend in my building who works with me, so she’s been able to show me to school, show me the grocery store, lend me toilet paper, and generally transition me smoothly. I thought about what would have happened if I didn’t have her and I think I might have panicked. It would have been terrible. Much braver for those who come and don’t have that support in place.

As it is, I feel like my path has always been just a little different. Not totally unique, of course, but always outside the mainstream. In America, my circle of friends are not in Asia. They are in retail or other jobs or still in college looking at business jobs, worrying about boyfriends and gas prices and finding the right vase at Ikea. And I was looking to Korea the whole time, finding it hard to relate and not feeling comfortable sharing all my excitement and fears. Among those who do go to Korea, most go through EPIK or another program first. Or they find a job at a Hagwon. I think this job at an intercultural Christian school is unusual. Perhaps it only feels that way. Either way, I’m lucky. I have a friend at my school. All my students and co-workers speak English. I’m even sharing 3rd grade with my friend, so we’re lesson planning together. I mean, could I get any luckier? I feel embarrassed. I have it so easy compared to what others have to do. But I thank God and accept it and do the best I can.

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wax on, wax off

From the other side of the dream, the hazy pastel perfection is muddied. The grass is green but brown tipped, moisture-less. The people are starry eyed and their shoes are patched from neglect.

My friends, my fellow quarter life crises-goers, it is not dreamy wonderland living the dream life. It is reality, same as usual, and there’s no cake and no fairies bouncing around to make life a living paradise. No, reality is still the same. Still gritty, occasionally terrible, occasionally transcendental. Of course you know that. Of course you knew, really, that living your dream wouldn’t be all fun and games. Someone will spill the mayo. Every time.

I had a dream to move to Korea and teach. It was going to be an everyday miracle, to wake up in another country, see my students’ smiling faces, share something joyous and wondrous with them, awaken desire for learning, experience culture in a beautiful nation…

I don’t want to rain on my own parade, but it’s hardly like that. Waking up at 5am anywhere is torture, and my students are just kids, not figments of my imagination, so they cry and get in fights and ask me to repeat myself fifty million times…less sylvan glades of learning and more crowd control in a mob.

But that’s not to say I’m unhappy. Of course I’m happy. I’m working a fulfilling job, and I am in another country, surrounded by the language I love and living independently. All those are part of a dream. But it’s not rosy, self. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it, says my self. A chant for the sidewalks as my feet strain against the 9 hour days.

So my mind turns again inward, to further dreams, wilder dreams, and again my imagination is caught and swept away from the present to bounds of freedom unrealizable.

Again I wax poetic to cover up the dismal mundanity of real life.

School daze

  
I arrive every morning around 7:15. I’m usually the first person to arrive, and I unlock the doors and bounce up the stairs, listening to music, before prepping whatever I need for the day. Lately that means just printing or making copies. I don’t know if my preparation will increase, but thus far I’ve been able to keep on top of things. School doesn’t start until half past eight. Most students arrive at eight, their loud, insistent feet pounding up the stairs. Cries of, “Hello, Teacher!” assail my ears. A few small bodies collide into me, seeking hugs as usual. 

I feel a little bad for the kids; I’m still teaching from the textbook so there’s not much fun and games to be had. Although, that may be my conditioning as a camp ESL teacher showing through. Perhaps most normal schools are like this. We did do some decorating of the classroom, however, which the students really enjoyed. 

  
Funny thing, I didn’t realize how bad kids are at decorating. We made a word wall for vocab, and none of them got an edge straight when they attached the papers to the board. I had to fix it for them. But we have a student profile wall with pictures and drawings. I like having a personal touch. 

Teaching third grade is fairly easy, subject wise. I don’t need to brush up on my math much, except on terms, and the science is basic life science. I can grade without looking at the key. The hardest things are the small teaching things no one thinks to tell you. Like remembering to write down test grades somewhere before giving them back to students…

But it’s an easy learning curve and today felt nice and brief. Right now I’m sitting at a coffee shop with wifi, drinking hot cocoa since my throat is a bit sore, chowing on a cream puff. Am I in a foreign country? Who can tell?

 
Another day’s treat. This is becoming a bad habit.

  
The walk to my school is lined with gardens. Tiny blue flowers, a persimmon tree; I’m surrounded by creation. 

otter. 

I’m in Korea…

…at last. Actually I’ve been here over two weeks. But I’ve been so busy and so without internet that I haven’t had a moment to write. 

Where to begin? Dragonflies are everywhere, darting between pedestrians, over the river near my apartment, past the cyclists. The humidity shakes the air and makes it feel like the earth is sweating. I close my eyes and I can hear my students’ voices; after only a week their personalities are ingrained in my head. 

The walk to my school is variegated, like a patchwork quilt of different sights; a church with nuns in full habit, a Burger King/gas station, a seafood store with live fish in tanks, a construction site, gardens in the space between the sidewalk and fences…and my friend tells me that the trees I see are cherry trees. Spring is going to be something else.

For the second time in my life, I have moved around the world and not felt it. The hardest part is always the trip over. Asia itself doesn’t faze me. I was thrown in the deep end here, having only a day before starting work full time. Jump and swim. Now the walks to school, the stores, and stations seem familiar. I’m blessed to have a very good sense of direction. Now that I’m used to how my area looks, I can go to a place once and go again no problem. 

There is so much to say now, it’ll take weeks to tell it all. At least I won’t run out of material for a while.


The river near my apartment. It’s about a quarter mile walk. The water is so shallow you can see the backs of the fish swimming. 

  
  

On the way to my apartment. Paris Baguette of course. It’s as common as Starbucks, and contrary to the sign on the door, does not open at seven. 

Until next time,

otter.