It has been one year since my adventure teaching at Yangsin Elementary School in rural South Korea through the Teach and Learn in Korea program came to an end.
One year, since the welcoming Alphabet Dance.
One year, since baby hugs in my classroom.
One year, since little bodies came running into my classroom, banging the glass door as they flew.
One year, since “Songsaengnim!” (“Teacher!”)
One year, since group lunch hour with the entire school.
One year, since riding home with my vegan, yoga-loving, non-English speaking, school librarian.
One year, since after school relaxation in my warm, solo apartment.
When I began teaching in Korea, there was an entire week of school I found myself, every day, in a classroom, without students. Every day, I was given a different excuse as to why my students were not in class.
There’s a field trip.
They’re on a group picnic.
There’s no English class, because the students are making up for not being in other classes during the field trip.
There are no classes today.
I was told every excuse, and always, after I was at school, lessons planned, activities prepared, and ready to teach.
I remember that being the most frustrating week of my seven months in Korea. I was ready to leave. I hated the miscommunication and the laid back atmosphere. I hated not having a set schedule that people honored. I missed the structure of American schools, and I missed teachers who showed up to class ready to go knowing exactly what they were teaching that day and to who they were teaching it.
As the semester went on, things got better, as they usually do with patience.
The schedule normalized, and people realized they should probably tell me things. I ended up loving the school and staff, and cried on my last day. I learned so many things about being a teacher and being a person in my short time at Yangsin and in South Korea.
Now, I’m in Indonesia. Teaching again, but this time, at a high school — an SMA — and the structure is infinitely worse. Every single day, I’m grateful for my time in Korea and, honestly, there are many days I wish I was back.
Indonesian school systems are notorious for their lack of structure. See, jam karet, practically the national slogan that means “rubber time,” and is used as an excuse for their flexible schedules (if there is a schedule at all.) Unfortunately, students are trained in the art of jam karet as it’s the teachers’ way of life.
There’s really no way of breaking this habit without quitting cold turkey and getting the teachers to show up on time — not likely considering Indonesians don’t think this is a problem (and therefore, who am I to attempt to fix this non-problem as opposed to adapting to their way?)
There are many days I spend in the teachers’ room, chatting and observing, that I see firsthand that no one seems to take teaching too seriously h
ere, and I once again find myself grateful for my time in Korea and my experiences there. I know to give things a chance and take it day by day as I am reminded how much I disliked Yangsin that first week.
I am grateful to my students at Yangsin:
- For (almost) always showing up to class and for always showing up to after school English lessons
- For humoring me when my activities were lame, and giving all of my games a chance
- For sneaking into the English classroom during their breaks (or when they don’t feel like being in other classes) just to talk, dance, or play
- For their politeness, their smiles, their giggles
- For teaching me what it looks like when a student is having a truly bad day as opposed to when he/she is just tired/cranky
- For the hugs, the hand holding, the talks
- For how hard they tried. Every. Day.
I am grateful to my fellow teachers at Yangsin:
- For including me in meetings in which I understood nothing
- For trying their hands at English, and speaking to me in Han
- For their passion for education
- For how much they care about their students
- For Wednesday volleyball
- For the Hweshiks (after hours staff dinners that turn into drinking parties that turn into your principal and fellow teachers admitting they’re scared to speak English with me, but they want to try.)
- For never getting too mad when they find missing students in my classroom
- For being patient with me
I am grateful to my Yesan apartment:
- For my tiny little town with the one grocery store
- For the Baskin Robbins in that town
- For my beautiful, huge apartment and for the experience of living on my own for the first time in a foreign country
- For the twinkle lights left by a previous tenant that kept the monsters away
- For my bathroom and the fact that I only sprayed myself in the face with the shower head/sink faucet twice throughout my time in Yesan
- For the heat lamp, also left behind by a previous owner
- For the ability to steal WIFI from the hair salon across the street, therefore never paying for my own internet service
I am grateful to Korean food:
- Convenient store Gimbap
- Kimchi jigae
- Coffee shops on every corner
- The little cream or red bean filled fish-shaped pastries (you’re right Vinny, they’re better with snow all around)
- Soup! Because you haven’t eaten a Korean meal if you didn’t have soup on the side
- Soju, even though it tastes like regret, and floor tiles, and the eyes of strangers shaming you at a hostel
I am grateful to Korean public transportation:
For the city buses that have a posted schedule that is set and stuck to
- For the drive
rs who are always friendly when greeted
- For the Ajummas to chat and who almost always have to be saved from falling when the bus drives too fast
- For the multi-city buses that have set schedules that are stuck to
- For the ability to buy tickets to said buses in advance on an automatic machine
- For the trains: schedules, prices, easy way to purchase
- For the fact that buses run almost 24-hours a day
- For the friendly and inexpensive rates of taxi drivers
- For the lack of open-container laws, but the paranoid need to still pour any to-go alcohol in a Krispy Kreme cup after a hard night
Every day, I am grateful for my time and experiences in South Korea. Without that semester, I genuinely do not believe I would have the skills, or patience, to be living in Indonesia now. I have an unending respect for my fellow volunteers who have never lived abroad before now, and even more for those who had never traveled outside of the United States before now.
To me, my time in Korea and Indonesia will always be tied. Korea is the time that prepared me for Peace Corps. It got me ready. It taught me how to be a teacher, and a foreigner. For that, I will forever be eternally grateful.