To evacuate or not to evacuate?

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.

6 thoughts on “To evacuate or not to evacuate?”

  1. Hi Christina,

    I’m making this short, as I know have lot of people’s responses to read. We’re very sorry to hear about your impossible situation. So many different things you must decide. Know that whatever your decision, we are with you.

    With Love,

    Bob & Bruce



  2. Hello
    My son Brent is leaving Saturday. He was teaching for a private school in Gwang-ju. He is experiencing a totally different reaction from his employer. From the threat of suing him, to reimbursement of arrival flight and restarting, he is getting nothing but pushback. His school just closed for the first time yesterday. There are 2 other American teachers joining him. Our first concern is his well being but second is the unfair financial burden this school is putting on him. Good luck to you. Be well.


    1. Yes, unfortunately it seems like those who work for private schools in Korea are facing a great deal of hardship. I’ve heard that employers are unable to pay teachers, and I’ve also heard that leaving is a breach of contract and is, technically, suable. Because Fulbright is run through the government, we have the cushion of the State Department wanting to send us back to America all expenses paid, since they’re liable for us. However all other public and private school teachers here do not have any of those options except to stay here and ride it out. I’ve heard that financially, it’s creating an absolute nightmare. Your son is definitely not alone. I am so sorry that he and others have to go through this. It’s not right and it’s a terrible situation all around. I really hope that first and foremost, he stays safe and healthy.


  3. Hi Christina, It’s so humbling to hear you speak about your life experiences there. This is a very difficult, gut wrenching, multi facited situation your all experiencing. This, Knowing that you have a very excruciating decision to make. It’s one of those deciding factors, will start to play out over time. Perhaps a short time. Maybe not. You have good intuition. Whatever you decide; I know will be the right thing to do. Love Dad.

    On Thu, Feb 27, 2020, 1:07 PM Korea Teaches Christina wrote:

    > Christina Dwyer posted: ” 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 t” >


  4. Hi Christina,
    I’ve been thinking of you and wondering how this situation would impact your stay in Korea. It looks like you have a very difficult decision to make. I just want to say that, whatever happens, you have already learned a lot and taught a lot. You have done a lot, and stretched and changed . . . yourself and others . . . a lot. Whatever you choose to do, be confident that you are wise and will decide well. Try not to take unnecessary risks. But know that you have already succeeded. You made your Fulbright dream come true, and you have surely enriched the lives of the people you’ve met since you arrived. Be confident, have faith, and continue being the wise, thoughtful person you are.


    Liked by 1 person

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