Wednesday, April 2, 2008

No Mo So Ko

Can you believe it? No more South Korea for me. I'm done with my year of teaching English there. It feels weird to say because that had really become my persona for a year. Everyone I had known through my whole life, or met during this year, heard at one time or another that I was "teaching English in Korea". This is just a fact that at times I said so often I sometimes wish it could be avoided, but it couldn't, it was just something so far out of the norm that it was going to come up in one way or another. Actually, it's the same now being back in America, it's impossible to answer even the most mundane questions (What do you do? Where do you live? What are you doing here?) without having to reproduce my own eccentric year in review. It's not that I don't like bringing it up because I didn't like it, it's actually the opposite. I really liked it, and every time someone brings it up I remember all the good times I had in Korea and it makes me kind of sad that I'm not there right now.

After parting ways with my parents in China I returned to Korea with only two weeks left on my contract. One week off after one week of school, "Graduation Week", which was basically a glorified vacation week mixed with a long emotional goodbye to all of the teachers and students I had become close with throughout the year. I saw these people everyday, became close with them. They took care of me, took me out to dinner, took me hiking, taught me to play badminton. I went out to drinks with them, threw parties for them, partied with them, danced with some of them, and sang with or for all of them (usually their request). The thing is, I became close with some special people I met here. I have close friends in America but these relationships were different to me. These friendships made me realize that there are good people all over the planet, and it made me feel like I was a good person too. It showed me that I can be thousands of miles away from my family yet still feel like they are close.

Graduation week was pretty sad. It felt weird to be sitting at my desk knowing that it was the last week I'd ever sit at it, and next year some other foreign teacher would be sitting at it. Weirder still when I got to meet that new teacher. He was really nice though, and I think he'll be a good fit for the school and the students. But each time I saw students, ate lunch, and went to classes and meetings I was reminded that I will never do this again, and will most likely never see most of these people ever again. It was a really sad and harsh realization.

During the last teachers meeting, a meeting I had attended every week for a year and not understood one word the entire time, Rachel and I were supposed to give goodbye speeches. Rachel stood up first and read her speech. It was supposed to be translated but that got shot down at the last second. Then it was my turn. I had spent the last couple of days with someone I am deeply indebted to trying to write my speech in Korean. I walked up the the podium I'd seen my principal talk at so many times before, never knowing a word he was saying, and I know that is what the eighty Shinjin teachers were expecting out of me. I looked up at all of them and felt my nervous heart beat fast, my hands shake, and felt the temperature of the room rise about twenty degrees. Then I read my speech in Korean. It was quiet before I started my speech, obviously, but once I started speaking it was eerie how silent it became. As if I could sense the collective conscience of them all recognize I was speaking Korean, and they listened in even more intently to try and get every word. I'm sure I made plenty of mistakes, but I finished, and sat down thinking it all went alright. Then the meeting ended seconds later, and to me it seemed like every teacher in the whole school came up to congratulate me, say good job, say goodbye, or say they would miss me too. After the realization that they understood it, and seeing that they were all touched by it, it was hard to hold in my emotion. Having a school full of teachers I respect all want to shake my hand, while knowing that this is the last day I will see most of them was just a little too much to handle. Tears rushed to my eyes almost as fast as the teachers rushed up to me.

Honestly it was one of those moments that I'll never forget. I felt like I'd graduated from something, I don't know what, but some sort of life step. No cap and gown or diploma, but a real feeling of moving up in the world. I had come here to do something and this meeting culminated the idea that I succeeded with nearly all of my good intentions.

Once the last day of school was over I had only one week to plan last meetings with all of my close friends in Korea before I left. I had lunches and dinners almost everyday of the week, and sometimes plans for drinks after them too. Sadly, I came down with a really serious case of food poisoning the day I had some of the most meetings planned, my last full day in Korea. Yup, instead of lunch with my principal, a guy who's life I wish I could have lived, a dinner with Mr. Jong who'd become like a father to both Rachel and I, and plenty of late night drinks with Alex, Jeff and Rachel on my last night, instead I spent it sick in bed. I'll always remember that night too, for a number of reasons I won't say, but it was something out of a movie.

But the goodbye dinners and lunches I did get to go to were really special too. I will never forget the people I met in Korea, I'm sure of it. Right now I still can't get Korea out of my head. I miss my apartment, my desk, the empty school gym, my hours, my vacation, my pay check, my friends, my Korean family, and my second home. That's what it was, and is, my second home. I cheer for Korea when I see them now in sporting events, and I feel somehow connected to the place. I like that. So even though I'm not in South Korea anymore, it's not no more South Korea for me, it'll always be there, and in some way I'll always be there too.The last time I sat at my desk...

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