Friday, September 19, 2014

Goodbye, Korea

I feel so grateful for the time I had here in South Korea. The difficulty to try and find words other than ones that gush and get nostalgic already -- it's impossible not to. 

My last day at Doam, I felt the stress from the entire school year - finding and making games, lesson plans, and after school materials - I felt it float away and pop like bubbles. I had this sense of peace and calm I haven't felt for one year. It's been so easy for my demons with the negative words to poke and pry; it's been a difficult year, I won't say it wasn't. I look back on all I did as the Doam and Doji native English teacher and I know I am a stronger individual. 

Then I look back on the year as 애비티철 and 영어성새님, and I think how much I'm going to miss hearing my name, how much I'm going to miss my students, my little friends. They saved me this year. I ate dinner with my two co-teachers this week, and SH asked me if I had any regrets. I truly don't because I feel like I lived as honestly and open-minded as I could this year. Going forward, I believe I am better equipped to be even more open-minded, kind, and patient. What I have gained in Korea - But I do wish two things: that I had dedicated time to learning Hangugo and that I had made more of an effort to talk to the other teachers at school. 

No regrets, just wistful thoughts for a perfectly focused world. It felt good when SK said that it's not easy to talk to the teachers because they are so busy. She admitted to me that she probably wouldn't have talked to me if she wasn't the English teacher. And that's what I was faced with all year. I was excited to have dinner with my two co's because I figured we'd speak in English. Alas, they chatted away in Korean, and I was left to pull as much out of their conversation as I could. I've gotten pretty good at it, and the thing is - the teachers in my schools have little time to relax and just talk to each other. The voices in my head get annoyed, but I understand. 

And through various conversations, I learned how many nerves my co-workers had to overcome to talk to me. I learned that many of the teachers were more comfortable hearing me talk than talking to me themselves. I learned that yeah, English is a second language - many of my co-workers have told me how frustrated they feel not being able to express their feelings to me, so maybe they don't try on some days. I learned how exhausting on both ends these efforts could be. 

My last day at Doam, I felt an unprecedented sadness and gratitude for all the efforts and patience and love from my co-workers. The Doam principal, principal, and staff gave me a little send off in the teachers' room. Gifts, letters, and words. I quite unexpectedly started to cry right as I began to make my short thank you speech. It was perfect to me that the agenda moved quickly past my last day and onto other matters. My co-teacher SK and I snuck back up to the English room. 

The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet. SK showed me a message the vice principal wanted her to translate -- my favorite part was "good luck with your future dreams, especially good luck in your love life :)" It was a very genuine well wish and is the first of its kind I've accepted without sarcasm. Right as SK left for the day, two of my favorite students came bounding into the English room. They skipped alongside me as I made my way to the bus stop. "Good bye, I love you!" 

I was satisfied with being able to ride the bus home like I have all year. I was afraid my co would offer me a carpool or something. Five minutes before the bus was to come, a van full of Doam kids in soccer jerseys and the principal and vice principal in their own cars pull up just across the way. The principal calls me over, offering to drive me home. She tells me that there's a big Icheon soccer tourney the next day. My old students race past me into the Korean restaurant, "Bye-bye, teacher!" The vice principal holds out his hand and we shake hands. On the car ride home, the principal shows me pictures of her son's wedding and tells me that she has three years left. Now that her son is married and after three years, she will be free!! She will study hard at English and will visit her sister in the U.S.A. It was a good last day at Doam. 


My last day in Icheon, I slept in and finished packing up my suitcases. I went to the post office to mail some packages to myself and then walked to my favorite mandu place to buy lunch. I putzed around my apartment before heading to Seolbong Park, where I ate an apple on a bench. The mother beside me started doing some ab work as her toddler son sipped on some juice. I did last-day cleaning before my Korean friend KH picked me up for dinner. 

KH is funny and lovely. I love her. We waited outside her apartment for her daughter SB who was busy studying for a big test. SB is teenager, phone in hand, and an artist. I feel so thankful and lucky to have met and befriended KH at school. A few times this year KH, SB, KH's mother, and I have gone hiking, eaten dinner, and gone shopping together. Each outing was full of laughs.

We ate 돼지갈비 & company and then headed back to KH's apartment to drop off SB (study!!). Living and teaching in a foreign country where I don't speak the language, it has felt like maybe relationships have meant a lot more to me than say a co-worker or a student. I think, they're doing all this extra work to communicate with me and they're being so nice -- I leave it at that: they're being so nice or that was fun for them to speak English. The interaction and relationship means so much more to me than to them. Dinner and saying goodbye to KH and SB tonight, I know that's not the case, not with them. We made plans for KH and SB to visit my home in America and I hope with all my heart it will happen and I will see them again. KH made me promise that I would study Korean and she would study English. 


I'm waiting for the moment when the ceramic vase of my emotions will crumble. There have been cracks along with the flood of thoughts and realizations as the day I will fly out of Korea comes closer. I am so thankful -- I won't forget my year, my life here. It's been such a great year that I am exhausted and excited and dreading the next chapter. So it goes, life does. 

Goodbye, Korea. Much love, Abby. 

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