5.15.18 (12:22 KST): As I am quickly approaching one year in Korea – I have realized so much about myself, and my lack of keeping up with this blog, among other broken promises. I thought that when I was moving to Korea, and when I was brand new, that there was enough happening that I could write something worthwhile, each day/every week. It turns out that there is literally so much happening, that I couldn’t write that much.
I am always guilty of being too verbose, but I think that helps me make sure that I don’t miss a detail…or say something I never meant to say.
Since May 25, 2017, I have met so many amazing people, Korean and foreign, been happy, been sad, missed my family and friends, celebrated a birthday, dated a girl, broken up with that girl, dated other girls, traveled to Japan, had meetings with my birth father, lost 12 lbs., thought that I’ve discovered who I am, realized I haven’t, learned that not all children are sweet and innocent, still listen to too much John Mayer, missed watching hockey, and all while struggling to learn Korean (language, culture, et al.), incessantly. In essence, I still feel like I am the same person I was a year ago, just older and with a different mailing address. When I read that, though. I am most certainly not. I don’t have enough klout or character (or character space) to address the last few months in one “blog”, but I know from talking to friends and family back home, some are genuinely interested in certain things.
I want to talk about the culture and teaching, of course, but I’ll man up and talk about the dating and relationship thing, too. I ask you (mom) to try to endure and read through my sarcasm and passive aggression…a year in a foreign country isn’t enough to grow out of what is wired inside of me.
The culture in Korea is still so different. People still commute the same way, are buried on their phone, stare at strangers, and live their lives – but they do the same things so differently. Again, Seoul is one of my favorite places, I have been, but I am still a foreigner. A foreigner who is disguised as a native, but possesses no insight, language or real understanding. Korea, Seoul specifically, is so international it is easy to still be and act like a foreigner – which, coupled with my resistance or laziness or fear, of completely letting go and immersing myself, has made it so easy for me to still be a tourist…and impede a lot of progress. There’s no one to blame, but myself.
I’m getting ready to finish up my current contract at my 학원 and it has been an experience of its own. Coming from a corporate setting in the States to an English academy abroad is like eating with silverware, as opposed to, chopsticks (literally, too). I have enjoyed my experience – and it is definitely not all rainbows and ravioli. I have a new found and deeper respect for career teachers/educators. Teaching is a draining job, physically and emotionally. And to do it in a foreign country is more difficult, I’ll assume. Coupling cultural differences with just a lack of structure has been such a challenge. I won’t say that I’m the worlds most organized person, but I really do like, and miss, organization. I miss Outlook reminders, straightforward communication, and plans. Walking into a school and finding out your schedule is changing that day or that you have 2 new students in your class sound like things that are normal, but it has forced me to be really flexible…and I always thought I was. Maybe I was just nonchalant? The terms at my hagwon are 12 weeks long. Schedules are set like 3 days before the start of the term, which gives me anxiety just thinking about it. Everything is sooooo reactionary here. Again, my perspective is coming from my own, small sample-size, but it is how I am basing my views of Korea. Like sometimes I think to myself that Korean culture needs a Project Manager. Koreans are not lackadaisical and they are actually probably some of the most productive people – but they way they complete tasks and accomplish things, seemingly is to work harder, not smarter. Or maybe more “agile” than “waterfall”? I understand change is constant, in life, but some of the sudden changes that create breaks in productivity are 99.9% avoidable with a little planning. Oh well, I need anyone reading this, to endorse me on LinkedIn for being “flexible”. This particular 12 week term, I have had my “normal schedule”, 1 week. Changes like these have caused me to work on Christmas Day, during Chuseok, and miss plans and other appointments, because of sudden changes, on the fly. I can’t complain, and need to roll with the punches, because I am here to teach…but it could be A LOT easier.
The students themselves, aging from (Korean) age 7 – 16, seemed like perfect angels when I arrived, have turned out to not all be so angelic. They are typical kids, for any culture. They are boisterous, unapologetic, adorable, sweet and amazing. I’ve also realized that a kid that isn’t necessarily kosher with showing respect, especially in a culture that actually cares about it, isn’t a reflection of the kid himself…but of the kids parents. From now on, if there is a child that isn’t whatever the mean average of “well-behaved” is, I’m automatically going to blame the parents for that. Obviously that’s easy for me to go to, since I’m not a parent – but I am friends with a lot of people with kids, and from my vantage point, they do a good job of raising their kids to be respectful…or at least show them by example. Some of these kids that show up to school and immediately call me, “ugly”, make me wonder what is going on at home. I am not a disciplinarian, which doesn’t help solve my issues, but isn’t that the parents job?
Outside of intangible behaviors that I, by my own hypocrisy, can’t blame anyone for, really – is the work ethic. These students are literally in school, all day. I had one student tell me he didn’t want to go home on a Friday night, at 10pm, because he had to take a math test by midnight. This kid is 11 years old (12 Korean age – which is like dog years, evidently, that’s another blog), and put in 15 hours at school that day. When I was 12, if my parents weren’t pulling me out of a random class to go play a hockey tournament somewhere, at 2:30pm, when the bell rang, I certainly wasn’t thinking about anything scholastic. And look where that’s gotten me. These kids work so hard, have an incredible amount of pressure, it is hard to comprehend. When I am stressed and am on my last nerve with the way a student is acting, I always go back to feeling super bad for them, because I think about their situation. Each day, I’ve been trying to imagine my life if I would have stayed and grown up here. I’m nothing but blessed to have had the life I have.
I have decided to stay in Korea for another year, at least. Which I had planned on, before moving here. Coming abroad didn’t make sense, to me, to do it for only 1 year. My friends that had lived abroad all shared one similar thing: a year will fly by. And it has FLOWN by. I chose not to extend my contract at my current hagwon, and just signed with an international English academy for elementary students. I have met some of the teachers and administration and they all seem fantastic. The area, Hannam-dong, is amazing…and out of my reach in terms of taste, economy and everything else. It’s one of the nicest areas of Seoul. I’m excited to begin a new chapter and it seems like this school will be a bit more organized, relaxed and more “Western” as they have a majority of their enrollment from international families. So, through June 2019, at least, I will be in a new place.
I’ve typed for an hour and only addressed 3% of what I thought I could. I’m going to have to type up something else about Japan and the Ben Kearney School of Courting Women/Dating, later.
If you’re reading this, I miss you.