I know the world is engulfed with COVID-19 right now and it’s really upsetting. Because of that, I’m going to share a simple, non-COVID related moment I had with my youngest host brother a few nights ago.
But I will give a quick update for those who are curious- school has been postponed again until April 6th. Other than that, new cases are continuing to decline and kids are spending time in the warmer weather enjoying the sun since there is no school. Starting to get a bit lonely since I can’t see many of my remaining friends due to playing it safe and not traveling on buses. But we cautiously think Korea has already seen the worst of it.
Moving on. The other night I took a walk with my host brother, as we are now in the habit of doing with each other. I had to do some shopping so we saw others walking and shopping as well. On the way back, he said, “Teacher, why do so many people look at us? You get so shy.” Being stared at day to day is something I’ve come to accept here, but it doesn’t mean that I enjoy it. I told him gently, “People might look at us because we look different. And when I realize I look different, I sometimes get shy.” What he means by “shy” is that when we’re walking around town together and people stare at us, I begin to look down more and talk much less and more quietly. I didn’t realize that he could easily see the difference between fun, loud Teacher at home that participates in Nerf gun wars and self-conscious, silent Teacher when buying groceries. Much less did I expect him to directly ask me about it.
So after explaining that to him, he said, “Teacher, you don’t need to be shy.” And then he was quiet for a bit. After this silence he said, “Teacher, hamsters look different, so people look at them. But people still really like hamsters!” I began tearing up a little bit. I try to act like I’m unfazed by the constant stares and the subtle glint of panic I sometimes see in a cashier’s eyes when I walk into a store. It warms my heart that Hyeongyu cares about me and tried to comfort me in the best way he thought he could. I told him that he made me feel better and he seemed quite satisfied. After that, he pulled out this fake knife that he now takes with him on our walks. He started swinging it around saying, “Teacher, I will protect you!” until we got back to our apartment.
Personally, I’m doing great. I feel safe and secure knowing that if I need to be tested, there are testing centers right in my town. The cost for the test is about $160 and is completely reimbursed if you’re positive. If you’re positive, the treatment is free (even if you don’t have national insurance- like me). South Korea currently has one of the most aggressive testing regiments out of all countries in the world right now. Consequentially, we have one of the lowest death rates in the world- 0.7%. As of writing this, we have 7,755 cases. Verrrry slowly but surely, the new cases each day have been in a steady decline, which is pretty promising.
Some resources about Korea’s impressive response to this virus:
There is no school until March 23rd. It was originally supposed to start on March 2nd. Throughout this whole epidemic, school has not been in session. Currently, the hardest thing to come by in Korea is masks, or N95 respirators. However, the government has just started stocking all local post offices with masks and are available cheaply to citizens. You go on your assigned day, based on your birthday, to pick up the masks. Gyms and academies are closed. Even back when there were only 28 cases last month, all college graduations were cancelled. There are no food shortages of any sort. Just yesterday I went to downtown Cheongju and almost every establishment was selling hand sanitizer. Not only that, but when you walk into a business, there is free hand sanitizer that you’re supposed to use at the door. Small businesses are being hurt by the spread, but the Korean government is offering a huge sum of financial relief to businesses who are struggling. Undocumented immigrants are being encouraged to get tested, and the government is waiving policies of reporting these undocumented immigrants at the doctor’s office in order for everyone to get tested and protect public health.
Many people have asked if I’m “trapped” and the short answer is- not at all. Legally, at least. There are currently no domestic travel restrictions in Korea. I can choose to leave my apartment whenever I want, but they recommend you stay inside in order to avoid spreading and contracting the virus. My host family prefers that I don’t travel at a time like this, and I am respecting their decisions to do so. The only people who are “trapped” are those who have come into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19- they are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days and take their temperature daily.
An unintended effect of no school or work means that families are spending a lot of time with each other. Kids have time to go outside and play basketball or tennis, something otherwise unimaginable during the famously strict Korean school year. Families are going hiking with each other. In my own family, I’ve started going on nightly walks with my youngest host brother. We’ve been playing boardgames, assembling puzzles, and playing Nintendo Switch. One of my favorite developments is that we’re now doing Netflix movie nights together. My host-brothers and I turn off the main light in my room, turn on my little fairy lights, gather up all the pillows and blankets, get a tray of snacks and watch a movie on my laptop. It provides some really cozy and precious bonding time with them.
Effect on me
I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors for the past 2 weeks. I have one week to go until I have to go back to school. Besides spending more time with my brothers, I’ve been trying to delve into self care. I’ve been pampering myself with Korean skincare products, which has been nice. I’ve been journaling and scrapbooking some of my experiences here in Korea. I’ve also been following yoga videos on Youtube and exercising in my room quite frequently. I’ve also been revamping my entire resume and polishing up on interview tips, since the next month or two will be critical in interviewing and applying for ELA teacher positions in the US.
A lot of people I know in my cohort have already voluntarily evacuated back to America, and I’m starting to realize that I may never see them again. It’s very upsetting to know that I never got to say goodbye to them in person. Keeping a routine and doing these little activities everyday help distract me from that reality. I have chosen to stay, for now, in Korea. We still have the option to leave in the future though if anything changes. Quite honestly, I feel safer being here than in America, where the virus is just starting to spread widely and wreak havoc. There is a calm sense of transparency in this country. I get nation-wide emergency alerts everyday that outline whether or not there was a new case in my city on that particular day. If there was, we are all sent an outline of each business or place that person travelled to in our town. It’s a bit invasive, but also quite effective. I have hope that Korea is now on the downwind of this and if not, there are ways I can protect myself here.
Not gonna lie, I’m a little bummed that I have all this free time off and I’m unable to travel to different places in Korea. For most of my grant year up to now, I’ve been packing in tons of weekend trips all over the country. It’s come to a halt now and it’s a bit upsetting, but I need to remember that staying put is the safer option for my school and family. I hope that this is resolved within next month maybe and that I can slowly start seeing Korea again.
Not even proofreading this. I know not all considerations are covered in here but I’m tired and this is just a quick vent.
It’s 1:30 AM on an early, fresh Friday. I can’t sleep. The state of affairs concerning my grant have completely changed within the last week.
Today we were notified that Fulbright is allowing a voluntary evacuation from Korea. Fulbright will be fully paying for our flights and, in a surprising move, will continue to give us our salary until June 30th regardless of whether we choose to stay or leave. If we return home, there’s the possibility, but not a guarantee, that we can return to teach in Korea if the current COVID-19 situation dies down. That is, if our schools don’t replace us in that time. All of us, on the record, will have a completed Fulbright Alumni status. They also informed us that a mandatory evacuation might be necessary in the near future. Voluntary ETAs would be evacuated in waves, the first wave being about 6 days from now.
I’ve been on the phone with different ETAs all day. We’re scared and stressed. At the beginning of the day, there was shock and confusion. How could we make such an important decision? We worked hard to get here and now our newfound livelihood could be ripped away from us so quickly. On the flip side, there were 500+ new cases JUST today within Korea. Many of us aren’t so worried about getting sick, but we’re worried about the effects that come with it. What if, God forbid, we acted as carriers to our students or other civilians with health problems, unbeknownst to us? Our host families are getting increasingly worried. Items in stores are disappearing or getting price gouged. Streets are emptying. Our schools are closed. A growing number of Asian countries are not allowing incoming flights from South Korea. What if the U.S. is next?
As a cohort, we’re sharing anecdotes. Passing on any valuable tidbit of information we can get our hands on. Who’s leaving? Who’s staying? Who’s on the fence? We’re reiterating the facts from the email we were sent- repeating them, memorizing them. We’re just trying to get comfortable forming the words on our lips- “evacuation”, “mandatory”, “voluntary”, “pandemic”. Asking things like “Well, are we truly safe anywhere in the world right now?”. We’re frantically looking for reassurance from someone- anyone- for our decision, whether it is to stay or leave. Guilt and doubt comes with either one we choose. We’re tip-toeing around our co-teachers and host families- parties who don’t even have the choice to leave. We are in a spot of privilege, but also a spot of pressure from everyone outside our cohort. It seems like many of us have turned inward, trying to fend away the reality that was foist upon us from the outside and protect our collective. We are the only ones that understand the pain of leaving this grant and this country that has grown so dear to us. Ultimately, we are the ones that are going to have to break the news to our younger host siblings and comfort them when they cry. We are the ones faced with the reality of never being able to say goodbye to our students or share last words with them. There will be some people in our cohort we might never see again.
I want to stay. I’m going to try to stay. But if a Daegu situation happens here in Cheongju, I will have to evacuate. If there’s a mandatory evacuation, I will have no choice. Tonight I took a walk outside after dinner and passed the landmarks leading up to the bus terminal near our apartment. I thought about the restaurants I liked and the ones where I planned on going, but might never be able to get to. I thought about how I was walking on the same roads my host brothers and I have walked and laughed on. I looked at the Mini Stop where I would often go with them to treat them to candy or ice cream. I thought of weaving through the backroads with Hyungyu, who would tell me about his day and point out what the different business on our street were. When I arrived at the bus terminal, I thought about how many times the Intercity bus had safely taken me home from all different cities in Korea. This is my home. What were my unknowing lasts here? Thinking about renewing was difficult enough for me. Coming to terms with the fact that I might not even get to stay for the second semester is totally jarring and overwhelming.
I keep experiencing such a wide range of emotions ranging from “this isn’t really happening” to “the situation is getting dire”. Even if I stay, when will I be able to teach? What if I’m just stuck in my room for a month? Then what purpose of my grant would I really be fulfilling? Knowing that I could be with friends and family at home and still get paid the same amount is tempting. But I don’t feel right abandoning the life I worked hard to forge here.
Two nights ago, my host brother asked me if I was really leaving in July. I told him I didn’t know yet. He then told me that he wants me to stay another year, and that he doesn’t want me to leave him.
It’s been a little over 6 months since I’ve arrived in Korea.
I have felt so many emotions. There were times I struggled, but I’ve conquered so much. I am, undoubtedly, thriving.
There are times I feel like I’ve lived here for an eternity. Times where I’ve almost completely forgotten my life before Korea.
The year leading up to before I left for Korea was a difficult time for me for a multitude of reasons. At times it was a struggle juggling a full course load at college, working, student teaching full time, and completing my EdTPA certification. There were times when my personal life wasn’t doing the best either. I remember getting all of my materials together to apply for this Fulbright grant. Despite 16+ hour days I found it in me stay up late and rewrite my essays over and over again to perfection. I had less than 2 months to prepare and submit my application, while some people have an entire year to get feedback from university faculty and recalibrate their efforts. I wanted this so. badly. When I would get tired or discouraged, I would take a moment to close my eyes and imagine myself walking through different Korean landscapes. And it would ignite something in me to keep pushing through those sleep deprived nights.
Nowadays, all of that seems like a distant memory from a past life. I am completely reaping what I’ve sewn and loving every minute in this country. However, with my brief trip to America coming up soon, all of this is flooding back to me. I’m remembering how hard I worked to be here, and when I do that, my time here seems so small. These 6 months have flown by and I know the next 6 months will do the same. Although I’ve really taken advantage of my time here, I’m not sure if I’ll be ready to leave yet when the time comes. I still feel like I have so much life to live here.
Cheongju, my city that I’m placed in, has really transformed into a sort of a 5th appendage of myself. It has become a home to me and I find myself wanting to protect it so dearly. It’s personal and precious to me, and I can’t help but even feel a little possessive over it. It watched me flourish and adjust to this new job, new family, and new culture. When I take the bus at night around town I feel at peace looking out the window and seeing the city. My city, it feels like. I can’t bear the thought of leaving and never seeing it again. I’m not sure if, at this point in time, my heart could handle it.
I’m halfway through. Right now, I’m on a long winter break from school. I’ll start teaching classes again in March with new co-teachers and a fresh set of first year high school students. And then in mid-July, I’ll be done. Finished. I’ll return home and it’ll be like this entire year didn’t even exist. People back home will ask how my year was, but they won’t really understand, even if I explain myself as articulately as possible. I’ll get a full-time teaching job and probably stay at the same district for 30 years. And I will never be able to experience another Korean autumn with beautiful golden rice fields again. Or wear hanbok while walking through cherry blossom trees in the spring.
And it hurts. It’s very painful to think about everything in such finite terms. But it’s the truth. I can always briefly visit Korea again in the future during the summer, but after I leave in July, I will never be able to live in Korea, to thrive in Korea again.
Sorry I’ve been MIA!! I’ve got a whole bunch of pictures piling up and not enough time to write enough about my experiences in each place to give them justice. However, I’m going to try to give brief summaries about everywhere my first semester working at my high school is almost over (wow!!!)
Jindo holds a very special place in my heart. This might be my favorite place that I’ve visited in Korea. The thing about Jindo is that it’s extremely rural. There’s nothing completely spectacular about Jindo. It’s a sleepy island near the bottom tip of Korea and it’s very close to Jeju. I went here with my host family and we were able to drive everywhere. My favorite parts were driving through farmland and looking out at the ocean the whole time. Everything seemed slower, more relaxed. Buildings weren’t on top of each other. Driving at night was incredible because it was the first time I was in Korea and saw the stars clearly at night without ridiculous amounts of light pollution. It reminded me of driving through upstate New York in the middle of the night.
I went to Gyeongju for the Fall Fulbright Conference, where I also presented my Classroom Management 101 presentation! Although I spent the whole weekend there, we only had one day to really look around the area. I opted to do a tour on that day! I’d describe Gyeongju as a clean, picturesque Korean town brimming with traditional architecture and a multitude of deep historical landmarks and monuments. The days we visited were absolutely perfect and we got to have clear, blue skies. One of my favorite parts of the tour was riding the bus up a very very steep and narrow mountain. When you looked out the window, you could see the clouds beneath you and over the towns below us. It was totally beautiful, and really reminded me of the Korean Buddhist art style I’ve been seeing at temples. I got to see some of Korea’s beautiful fall foliage beginning and the infamous pink muhly plant!
Jinju was super lovely and I’d love to go back! We went to the lantern festival and it took HOURS to go through and see all the lanterns. Even now, I’m not so sure that we were even able to see all of them. It was breathtaking. There were tons of vendors as well selling crafts and Korean street food. Gabby and I were able to make our own lanterns, write our wish on them, and send them down the river in hopes that they’ll come true.
It feels like I’ve been visiting Seoul almost every other weekend. I definitely see Seoul in a completely different light than how I did when I first studied abroad here in 2017. For my tri-state area readers, going to Ewha was almost the equivalent to going to NYU or Columbia with majority Upper East Side-ers. At least that’s how it feels now after being to other parts of Korea. I’ve become a lot more familiar with the different bus terminals there and I finally visited Itaewon, which is a part of the city that’s swarming with foreigners! Here there’s a huge diversity of restaurants and shops. I spent Halloween here and had a blast!! In the future, I plan to visit more of Eastern Seoul since that’s not really an area I frequented while I was at Ewha. Once it gets warmer I’d like to start going to the Han River on a picnic mat with a few of my friends. I really cherish my moments alone on the bus to Seoul, which is about an hour and a half from my city (Cheongju). Looking out the window to and from the city really helps me remember why I came to Korea in the first place.
I’m not sure if you guys remember from my other post, but I visited Sokcho again! This time when there was no typhoon and it was a completely different city. It was a completely gorgeous beach town up north. We lit floating lanterns and sent them up over the ocean at night. We also visited Seoraksan, one of Korea most breathtaking mountains. It was absolutely gorgeous. Once you get up the mountain, there’s a temple as well as small cafe’s you can sit at while looking up at Seoraksan’s beautiful peaks.
Where am I going next?
Next Sunday I’ll be heading down to Busan for about 5 or 6 days. After that, I’m leaving for Phu Quoc, Vietnam on January 13th!
Sorry I haven’t posted in a while! I’ve been super busy. I’ll give you a non-frills update on what’s been going on!
I travelled almost every weekend in October, so I haven’t had a free weekend to myself in a super long time! I went to the Fulbright Fall Conference in Gyeongju and did a presentation on Classroom Management in front of the whole cohort! I also attended some small group discussions and had a really rad weekend!
I’ve been traveling to a lot of different cities around Korea and noticing just how different they are from Seoul. When I studied abroad at Ewha in 2017, I thought Seoul was representative of all of Korea and I was so, so wrong. Although I’ve been in Korea before, my study abroad experience was so incredibly different than this one that they’re almost incomparable. This time, I’m really completely immersed in the culture and learn new things every day. Last time I was here I was kind of stuck in an exchange student bubble.
I’m getting really close to my youngest host brother. Sometimes, he’ll stay in my room for an hour trying to teach me magic tricks. Whenever I come home, he always runs to the door to greet me. And when I leave in the morning, he always runs to the door to say goodbye. He was so excited to show me his Jason halloween costume and souvenirs that he got from the Philippines. He doesn’t have his own phone, but sometimes he takes his mom’s phone just to show me youtube videos he finds funny. The other day when I mentioned being from New Jersey, he was so excited to show me a Netflix clip of Civil War where they drive past the “Welcome to New Jersey” sign. Honestly, as a native English speaker, native New Jersey-an, and someone who has seen Civil War, I have legitimately no recollection of that scene and I have no clue how he somehow remembered that.
Teaching is like a roller coaster for me. When something even mildly goes wrong, I tend to beat myself up over it. I think I beat myself up extra hard because I feel like I’m supposed to be trained for this. If I teach the same lesson to two different classes, they could both end up wildly different. When my classes do go well, I’m overly ecstatic! To be honest, most of my classes are going pretty well. There are two lower level all boys classes that I’m still struggling with, but it is getting better. I’m so thankful that I’m pretty well received by the students and faculty. My main co-teacher and I are very close. He’s brought me to baseball games and other events. This past weekend we went on a fall foliage tour since it was the peak time for the leaves to be changing colors. He’s also a really staunch advocate for me since I don’t speak Korean. He’s always keeping me updated on faculty outings and eliminating miscommunications between other coworkers. There’s two younger co-teachers here that I’ve also gotten really close with. Unfortunately, one of them just left since her maternity leave position ended. But they’ve made me feel really at home here and I’m so happy to have them.
Andong is an extremely historical town still rich with deep Korean traditions. There’s a large folk village with thatched houses, traditional markets, and a lot of important landmarks that date back hundreds and hundreds of years ago within the surrounding area. My super generous host family thought it would be great to spend a weekend in Andong!
Our road trip there largely consisted of discussions of different genres of music. My host brothers discovered that we both were very familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, so we played that for the majority of the trip. It was really nice being able to laugh and sing along to the same songs as my brothers. One in particular loves to sing super loudly, so we make a great match.
Jjimdak is one of my favorite Korean dishes. It’s steamed chicken with various veggies mixed with glass noodles. There are many different kinds of variations of this dish. Some restaurants serve it underneath a layer of melted cheese, and others add rice cakes. However the original dish is said to come from Andong during the Joseon era! So, our first meal in Andong was naturally some traditional Andong jjimdak!
That night we went to Weolyeonggyo bridge. Coincidentally, my brothers also discovered that I had Pokemon Go on my phone. They were originally going to sit the walk out but after discovering that they more they walked, the more Pokemon they could find, they gladly tagged along. And that’s the story of how I essentially lost my phone for the weekend except to take photos.
And speaking of photos, check these out!
Walking here was breathtaking. It felt like I had stepped into another world. The fog made the bridge just look like a mirage. The reflection of the lights in the water looked like an exact mirror image. It was so surreal!
My host parents jam packed the next day with tons of activities and different sites to see. Here are a few pictures!
We also sat down for a traditional Korean dinner with Andong sikhye! Sikhye is a sweet rice drink Koreans usually have after meals. Andong Sikhye is different because they mix gochujang, a pepper paste, with it. I had literally never tasted anything similar to it before.
I got this lovely family portrait too!
That night, my host family and I stayed in a Hanok, which is a traditional Korean house
The next morning, we went on an early hike to a temple. It was completely serene and breathtaking. I’d really like to go back there in the future!
Afterwards, we went back to the hanok. It was like a bed and breakfast scenario, and the owner of the series of hanoks invited us into her home for a home-cooked breakfast!
There’s something so uniquely comforting about being on a bus, train, or plane to a new destination and looking out the window. These were taken on my 3 hour bus ride to Jinju.
I’ve been doing a lot of in-country traveling recently. The past two weekends I went to Seoul and this week, since Hangul day is a national holiday, I went to Jinju to see the fall lantern festival. I’ve had a lot of time to look out windows and see the Korean landscape pass before my eyes.
Last night, when I got home from Jinju, I started to realize that my homestay has really turned into a home for me. My host dad offered to drive me and my friend home from the bus terminal. While I was walking from the car to the apartment, my host father quipped how I looked like I skipped fall and began just dressing for winter. We were laughing and when I walked through the door, my host brothers greeted me and excitedly told me all about their day. I put my gift of assorted macaroons down on the kitchen table when my oldest host brother showed me about all the games they played. When I finally got to my room, I was so happy. And I think I was happy because my homestay is not a foreign place to me. I don’t have to be “on” all the time, and I don’t feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I’m well looked after here and I feel like a part of the family. I look forward coming home after a weekend excursion or trip because where I sleep has truly turned into a beacon of comfort and happiness.
Disclaimer: This is written from my own perspective, and these opinions are my own. I’m comparing this to my own experience being a student and also a student teacher in a New Jersey public high school, but this could wildly differ given the upbringing of other Americans. The school I’m placed at is also probably not representative of all Korean schools, so take that with a grain of salt.
I’ve been compiling this post for the last 2 or 3 weeks! I’ve noticed a lot of differences between American high schools and Korean high schools, and I definitely will not be able to cover them all in one post. Which is why I’m only going to briefly cover a few aspects for now.
Ok, students truly “live” in their homerooms here. At my current school, students stay in their homerooms all day while teachers come in to teach their lessons. On average, high school students usually are in school from 8 am to 9 or 10 pm some nights. They spend their entire lives at school. As such, in their homerooms they have blankets, pillows, toothbrushes and other toiletries on hand. Most girls wear curlers in their hair while they’re in class. A small percentage of our students actually live on campus, which is not completely unusual in a Korean high school. Most, if not all students, have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at school almost every day.
The role of teachers
Since students essentially live at their school, teachers have taken the role as faux parents here. Teachers generally share similar hours as their students, and also have an arsenal of their toiletries at their desk. Students are extremely close with their teachers, and skin ship seems to be an important aspect of the teacher-student relationship. Physical affirmation, such as patting on the back, head scratching, and arms around the shoulders seems to be a positive form of communication that teachers show to let their students know that they care about them. This is especially common between male teachers and male students. Often times students will come into the teacher’s office and teachers will ruffle their hair, give them food, and even occasionally, briefly hold their hand. I’ve seen some male teacher to male student butt taps too. To my American teacher friends reading this, you’re probably shaking your head or quietly mouthing “what”. This type of behavior is something would be grounds for termination in any American school, so it’s been an adjustment to see this. I’ve even seen students call one of my co-teachers not by his name, but only by “아빠” (dad). In fact, the girl students only call him by this exclusively. Students will also freely tell their teachers how much they love them and give them numerous gifts. I’ve been readjusting my expectations of what’s appropriate conduct inside the classroom here in Korea, and I’m sure that when I eventually go back to teach in America I will definitely have to readjust back. Honestly, it’s really made me think that American teachers must appear to be ‘colder’ and more detached than teachers not only in Korea, but in other countries.
With teachers assuming the role as sort of a surrogate parent, that also comes with discipline. School may have only just started about 3 weeks ago here, but I have already seen a student get verbally reamed out in the teacher’s office at extreme levels that would never be seen as appropriate in America. I’ve heard similar stories from other ETAs as well. Other ETAs have told me that students have cried after being yelled at and run out of the teacher’s office. But ‘tough love’ is a pretty popular sentiment here. Many students understand that this is another way for teachers to show students how much they care for them and want them to succeed.
Students in relation to me
I’ll be real. The first time I walked into the school, it was on a Friday after the last bell had just rang and I felt like a total movie star. Students in the hallway crowded around me and either stared, whispered to their friends, or shouted out “Whoa! New pretty teacher!”. To be fair, I was also dressed in business professional because I had just been at the departure ceremony in Songdo. One of the first things I noticed was how much value is placed on looks. Of course, American high school students do the same thing. However it’s been elevated to a level that I find a bit unsettling. In my first 2 weeks, I asked students to write 3 sentences introducing themselves. The majority introduced themselves not by indicating physical traits- i.e. short, tall, has glasses- but instead said “pretty”, “cute”, “thin”, “fat”, and “ugly”. A few students introduced themselves by telling me that they were on a diet. A small group of students even wrote down their weight in their introduction. More students did this rather than writing down hobbies or personality traits, which would be well within their lexicon. It definitely took me off guard and has inspired me to write a self-love/body positivity lesson or unit somewhere throughout the year. Not one day goes by where students don’t comment on my looks or the looks of themselves in class. I wish they could know that I think they’re all beautiful on the inside, and have so much more to offer besides their appearance.
I have a very close relationship with my students here, but in a very different way than I did with my American students. Korean students are doting, caring, and extremely generous (but Korean gift giving culture is a whole other subject). My students love running up to the door of the teacher’s office and greeting me in English before giggling and running away. They also call me “Teacher” or “Christina Teacher” instead of Ms. Dwyer. I’m still struggling with the streams of “I love you”‘s I get from them because I’m not really used to hearing that from a student, let alone saying it back to them. My students even finger-sign hearts to me while I’m walking past them. Even with all the affection, there seems to be a little wall. I think that they put me on a pedestal and, in fear of disappointing or contradicting me, they’re reluctant to speak in class. At the same time, I sometimes feel like I’m an artifact at a museum. They “ooh” and “ahh” at me but sometimes I don’t feel like their teacher. I sometimes just feel like I’m a rare sculpture behind glass in their classroom for them to look at. I hope that with time this feeling will fade away. It could just be because they’re shy, and it’s probably because I’m older than them on the Korean hierarchy scale. But still, it’s a feeling that I’ve been finding a little hard to shake recently.
I have like 2 posts sitting in my drafts waiting to be published but…
It’s Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and I’m at Sokcho again. This time, there’s no typhoon.
I was sitting and watching the waves today. The water was really clear and you could see the bottom of the ocean through the water. It had such a pretty blue-ish green-ish tint to it. And today, the skies were super blue after an entire week of cloudiness and rain.
I just reflected on how grateful I am to be here. How proud I am that I’ve gotten to this point. How beautiful it is when every gear comes together to make such a graceful, functional, well-oiled machine. And how precious it is to take moments to yourself and bask in these little gifts of self-reflection.
I felt like I was finally sitting under the shade of my own vine and fig tree.
A personal journal and gallery of my 2019-2020 South Korea Fulbright ETA experience!
OnePaigeAtATime is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of Paige Timmerman and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.