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.