From the BK to the SK
I'm desk warming for the next 3 weeks until I leave for Japan. It feels weird. Saying good bye to my students gave me this pang of sadness and a wave of tears. I taught 3 days of 'academic summer camp (remember this is korea - even though school is out for the summer, there is still school. they never stop studying)', which ended yesterday, so this is the first morning to start off my summer vacation - no teaching, just desk warming. Usually, my friends and I feel a bit frustrated to come into work every day and sit with nothing to do for 8 hours, even though we were well aware this was what part of the job entailed. It's a bit worse in the summer, really, since all I want to do is go to the beach, and this is the second summer in my life where there is no beach nearby (first was Beijing).
When I left my house to walk to work, surprisingly, it wasn't a million degrees outside with air so thick it weighs you down as you trek around feeling like you have cement legs. There was a breeze, cool enough for me to wish I had set an alarm earlier so that I could have taken a relaxing morning jog. It was one of those mornings you breathe in and feel it in your skin that's it is a beautiful beach day - that made me miss Cape Cod just a little.
But then I remembered the within a month, I will be island hopping through South East Asia, making trips to beaches you see in movies or in your dreams. I will be traveling around, waking up and going to grab breakfast at the nearest food stall while whatever crazy and electrified city I am visiting is still waking up from its slumber (one of the perks to being a morning person).
I just felt excited and elated at once, knowing that something so big lies ahead of me. I am sure when the day comes in August to pack up my things and hit the road, I'll shed some more tears, but for now I feel like I can't wait another day for it all to start.
My grade 3 classes.
(Make sure to look at the post below for grade 2 students.)
So, they might not be the best work of photography, but this is so you can see my classes
Today was my last day teaching my 20 classes, my 600 students, at Sunghwa Middle School. I've officially finished out two semesters as a teacher in Korea. So, how did the last week go?
I don't know what it was, but for some reason saying good bye to my 2nd graders wasn't too bad. We took our class picture, I told them that I will miss them, gave them my e-mail, and that was that. It's sad to me that this year I don't feel as close to them as I did last semester when they were innocent 1st graders, but I don't speak for all of them when I say that.
Since it wasn't as incredibly emotional as I had expected it to be when I said good bye to my 2nd graders, I thought maybe I'd have a handle on it when it came to my 3rd graders. I thought that, perhaps, this wouldn't be as difficult and that I'd be able to tell them how much I really do love them and how much I will miss them next year.
I had my first class of 3rd graders on Monday morning, 2nd period, and it was one of my favorite classes. We played our game, which was so incredibly fun, and then with about 5 or 6 minutes left, we took a picture together.
They sat back down at their desks after the picture, and within seconds I felt like my breath just totally escaped me. My hands started shaking, and I had to remind myself to take one, deep breath in. I got so nervous and so overwhelmed as I was looking back at them and in one second it was like, "Wow, I will never be in a class with this group of 30 kids ever again".
I started to tell them how much I will miss them, and my voice just broke apart as the tears swelled up in my eyes. I couldn't speak and was standing in the front of the room crying, trying my best to fight through and get the words out. My students started crying, and they started cheering for me, and I just really in that moment felt so grateful for everything.
So, with every 3rd grade class, I tried my hardest to hold back my tears, but I just couldn't do it. I loved my third graders so much and still can't process the fact that I will no longer teacher them and no longer see them.
I am excited for traveling and all that lay ahead, but the fact that this experience with these kids has to come to an end in order for my backpacking trip to begin - that just sucks; however, such is life, and all I can do is go with it.
It's official. Not to jump the gun, but this week is the beginning of the end of my time in Korea.
The next four days are my last four days of work. Actually, let me re-phrase that: The next four days are my last four days of teaching. I still have that oh-so-exciting period of deskwarming ahead.
It's definitely strange, knowing that things are winding down, that I've been here almost 11 months and that in just four days, there is a good chance I will never see most of these students again.
I've learned more throughout my year in Korea than most anything could have ever taught me, and right now the pressure is on to make a lasting impression. There is always that fear that, because Korea is like a factory, pumping out used up English teachers every 6 months for some new ones, the next teacher will exceed whatever bar I set. I think I've been an OK teacher. I've had my moments in the classroom where I haven't kept my emotions hidden all too well, but for the most part, I just wanted the students to have fun, and I am pretty certain they always did.
Even after 11 months, I still get applause when I walk into the classroom. I'm greeted with cheers and smiles and laughter and everything that instantly lighten your mood.
So I feel a bit nervous, a bit sad, a bit excited, a bit nostalgic - I feel a little bit of everything, really. I don't know whether I will cry this week, whether I'll cry next week, whether I will cry when I leave in August, whether I'll even cry at all, but I know that I have a year full of memories to hold on to. I know that when I'm backpacking and traveling, I can just take out a letter from one of my students and know that I did something not many people do. I saw it from start to finish, even when things got hard and I found myself wondering whether I was crazy for getting myself into this. There is nothing in the world I would have traded this experience for, and I know these next few days are going to fly.
I keep picturing myself in the classroom, playing a game with the kids for the last time, laughing at their ridiculous comments or questions for the last time. I'll never get this again, and nothing will ever compare to it. Just like week in a game of scattegories, my students told me that "Bitamins" were something that started with the letter "B" that you could find in your home. It sounds so simple, but it sent the class and I into a fit of laughter. I looked up from my desk at the front of the class to find my one student, MinChol, probably the chubbiest, tubbiest dumping of a student I teach, wearing a Spiderman mask on his face, singing the theme song while his arms crept through the air as if he was scaling a wall.
But it's like, what do you say when you say good bye to a group of 600 kids who will never truly understand the difference they've made in my life? I guess I'll just see what comes and what happens, and that I am as ready as I'll ever be for this week. I guess there is Nothing I can do really, except enjoy it all and relish each moment so that I'll always have something to hold on to.
Apparently, the above title is the translation for hello. I just booked my plane tickets to go to Japan during the third week of August, and I am so incredibly excited.
'So not to sound ignorant, but when I moved to Korea, there was no driving force or uncontrollable desire to make my way to Japan, unlike the way I've felt about India and Laos. I am very close to Japan: 1 hour and 30 minutes by plane to Tokyo; however, I was only going to go if I found the time (and the money) to do so. My friends and I had planned to visit for two weeks during out winter vacation instead of doing Malaysia and Singapore until we realized two things:
a.) Japan will be just as cold as Korea was at that time. This is a 'vacation', which in all of our minds coincided with the words sun and beaches and warm weather.
b.) Japan for two weeks on a the salary of an English teacher is 100 percent unrealistic (though this lack of financial understanding and maturity would not surprise my father).
As you know, we never made it there, and the idea of Japan slowly faded and became a place that maybe one day I would travel to (once I am a NYT best selling author and can spend money like water, clearly).
A few months ago, maybe some time in March, my older brother mentioned to me that he would be playing rugby in Japan during August, which gave life to the dying notion of making my way to this dazzling country. I wouldn't say I developed an interest in visiting, but I definitely had developed a reason/excuse to make my way over there.
Some time later, I watched a documentary about an elementary school in Japan that (call me cliche) made me feel like it was such a peaceful way of life. Sparks started, but the fire took hold when I started reading a book called Memoirs of a Geisha, which I am sure you have all heard of by either the book itself or the film. I finished the book in about four days, and I wished at that very moment I could just close my eyes only to open them and find myself in Kyoto, Japan.
I started Googling (isn't it weird how 'Google' is a verb?) endless teaching jobs in Japan, even though really I have no desire to be a teacher. There isn't anything I dislike about teaching, personally, it's just that I'd rather (as I've said a million times before) be sent to somewhere like Libya while it is in the midst of war or North Korea while it puts on a tragically sad display to prove itself to the rest of the world.
So to say I am excited is an understatement. I am going to be on the edge of my seat until August 14, when I make my way to Tokyo, spend my brother's birthday with him in Japan and watch him play some rugby (even though, after practically 10 years, I still don't truly understand it).