As my Grandma so aptly put it, I am no longer in Asia and this url is incorrect and needs to be updated. I’ve been out of Asia for almost a month now. After a hideous lead-up to a not-so-bad flight (problems with weather, problems with check-in, problems with immigration, delayed flight, missing my connection, taking a new flight — not so bad food, movies, lovely service, no one in my row) I made it to America at 2 in the morning on Wednesday, August 7th.
The days leading up to my flight were a veritable maelstrom of activity. I packed, I cried, I packed, I cried, I hauled my stuff across the country, I taught at a camp, and then two days of nothing. I hung out in Seoul, watched movies, got my hair cut, closed my phone account, then went to the airport.
Now I’m back and it’s strange. I went from the rigidity of a high school schedule, to the intense rigidity of camp, to this. I feel… like I’ve lost my purpose. I have no job, I have no apartment, and many of my friends are still in Korea or are scattered across the globe. Instead of having a year-long contract, I have… nothing. I could get a job and quit in three weeks, or I could get a job and keep it forever. I could live in Virginia forever, if I wanted to. I could move across the country. I could go back to Korea. There are so many possibilities, I feel choked by it all. In coming back to America, I feel like I’ve taken a few steps backwards, though I know that this is a necessary stage in my life. Who would’ve thought I would have stayed in Korea for so long – certainly I didn’t at the start of this all! Who knows what direction my life will take this year.
Though I’ve enjoyed keeping this blog, there’s no place for it anymore. This blog recounted my adventures in Korea, but more importantly my time at school and my time with my students. I don’t plan on deleting it, but I won’t write in it anymore. If you want to keep up with my adventures, you can follow me at http://emafterasia.tumblr.com/. Also, I’ll at UMW on Thursday, September 5th participating in the Life After Study Abroad Seminar hosted by the Center for International Education. It’ll be from 6 to 7 pm in Lee Hall.
Thank you for reading.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
My first grade boys are making me laugh which is good, because my second graders are almost making me cry. We’ve had so many schedule changes recently which doesn’t bother me normally, but since these schedule changes could affect the date of my last class I’ve tried to stay on top of them. I found out on Friday during first period that next Friday most of the classes were cancelled, which meant that this week was going to be my last class with 2.5 and 2.10. I was really really sad.
It was a good class. I managed to wrap up a lot of loose ends within the class and talk to a fair number of the students one-on-one. Sam was there for that class as well as others, and she managed to meet most of the students I regularly blog about. She also got a fistbump from fistbump kid, and had A NICE LOUD CONVERSATION with THIS KID (who we’ve decided we’re now calling Caps Locks Kid because it just fits).
After class I chatted with one student about Model UN for most of the break period, then went outside to find a student I had seen walking normally just minutes earlier hobbling around with one crutch shoved under his armpit, his walking eerily reminiscent of my friend pretending to be an urchin in Oliver Twist at my sixth grade summer drama camp.
“OH NO WHAT HAPP– wait. You didn’t have a crutch five minutes ago.”
“Haha yes I got you teacher.”
“Which poor student did you steal that from? Can the student walk?”
“Yes” he said, shrugging nonchalantly “he’s fine. This is my secret tool.”
“How is it your secret tool?”
“Teachers see me and they say ‘Oh DG, are you okay? You should rest’ and I say ‘okay’ but really I am okay.” Then the bell rang and he hobbled off, yelling over his shoulder “Goooooodbye teacher!”
It’s hard losing my second graders. I’ve got a teacher facebook set up and I’ve given them all my email, but I’ll still miss them, probably more than they’ll miss me. One student last week started up in her seat and exclaimed that they wouldn’t ever have another foreign teacher. While this is not necessarily true, especially if they take English classes in University or go to a private academy, I am the last foreign teacher they’ll ever have in public school, and for some of them the last foreign teacher ever. I’m the end of a long line of foreign teachers they’ve had that have, hopefully, tried to instill in them a love of English, learning, and cross-cultural exchange. They’re growing up and moving on to bigger and better things, though they have to get through this next year first. At least I get to keep some of my students, though next semester I’ll be wary of students on crutches.
YJ was one of the first students I felt close with at CPHS. She was always peppy during class, but I got to know her during the weekend long county-wide speech competition. I started eating lunch with my students instead of with the other foreign teachers, and I ended up sitting with her group a fair amount because she’d always call me over and welcome me. Teachers need just as much welcoming as students sometimes.
I needed all the welcoming I could get. This was late September or early October, I don’t remember, and I was still adjusting to my new and intensive teaching schedule, as well as the school’s much higher on average English level. I was also adjusting from being the first foreign teacher ever at my school, and being the one to set the standard for what a foreign teacher does, which was a blessing and a curse, to going to a school that has had F*lbright teachers for over twenty years. The previous ETA had been there for two years, had done a stellar job, and had left massively big shoes to fill.
YJ, during one of our contest lunches, told me “Teacher. I like your class.”
“Really? Thanks. Sometimes I worry that my style is too different from S—- Teacher’s.”
“It is different, but you are different. And I like your difference. I liked S—– Teacher, and I like you.”
After the conference we were solid. I knew that, though her English level was among the lowest in terms of test scores, she was in my corner. She would always volunteer, always smile, always laugh. Other students would lightly tease her, saying that her English sounded like Korean, and it did – she said everything with the telltale up and down intonation that betrayed her natural tongue and would add long vowels to the end of every word, whether it belonged there or not. I told her not to worry, and that her intonation was cute. “Yes. Cutie.” She’d respond.
I saw YJ become a second grader, and over the course of the year toward test times I’d see her get more upset. I ran into her in the hallway once with two other friends holding a slip of paper.
“Hi girls, what’s up?
“Teacher. We got our scores back. I am the worst in my class.”
“Well, remember test scores aren’t everything – in terms of speaking your English is very good, probably better than what your test score says.”
She still seemed fine though. I’d run into her at the local coffee shop on weekends when students were allowed to go home to visit their families. “Hey YJ! Why aren’t you at home?”
“Teacher, I live in CP remember?”
“Oh right. Well are you having a good break?”
“Oh, it’s okay.”
“Well, see you on Monday!”
“Yes teacher, byeee!”
YJ didn’t come back after summer vacation. I had misunderstood her living situation – she lived with her uncle who was a teacher at CPHS, but her actual family lived in Gangwondo, which is a province far to the north. As it would have taken her at least six hours by public transportation one way to go home, she was rarely able to visit her family. That coupled with the academic stress, caused her to leave school. I never got to say goodbye, and I didn’t know until today that she had transferred.
Maybe it slipped her mind, and she forgot to tell me – I’m not upset, I only saw her once a week so if she forgot to tell me at the end of class, she didn’t have a great way to let me know. It’s possible that she decided not to come back after summer vacation had started, after spending time with her immediate family for the first time in six months, or maybe she was too embarrassed to let anyone know. Maybe she just had too many goodbyes.
It hurts, because I’m never going to see her again, and I never told her how much her initial words validated my stay at CPHS, and propelled me to become a better teacher. It hurts, because this is going to happen to all of my students, but it’ll be me leaving, and leaving them with inadequate goodbyes and memories. I hope she’s doing well at her new school, and that they have a foreign teacher who realizes what an absolute gem she is. It just hurts…
So far this has been my hardest day, though I think that Friday will prove to be the most difficult (being my last day, and also my last class with class 2.1 – my advanced second grade students). I teach two of my best behaved classes on Wednesdays – class 2.6 (very low level, second grade, co-ed, approximately 10 students) and 2.2 (intermediate, second grade, co-ed, approximately 30 students – one of my two penpal project classes), and I also teach class 2.3 (low level, second grade, all girls, approximately 20 students) which is not exactly well-behaved, but well-meaning and full of spunk.
When I walked into class 2.6 today I found a giant pyramid of chocopies on my teacher’s podium, decorated with fish-flavored crackers, and I found out that there were only four out of my usual seven (which again, is out of my actual ten) students. Two students were sick, three were off doing sports things, and one was being disciplined. The four students that were there (three girls and a boy) participated well. It was actually interesting teaching only them – they are normally the shyest students in the class, and at the beginning of the year I couldn’t get them to talk. This class was my most difficult class in September 2010, and it’s become one of my favorites. Unfortunately the two girls that were sick, and one of the boys that was off doing sports things, are the three highest level English speakers in the class, and thus the ones that I end up talking to a lot outside of school and have really bonded with, and it was sad that I couldn’t say goodbye to them. I’ll have to go back to their homeroom later. Rose (her Korean name literally means Rose) is actually older than I am, has really awesome tattoos, and is an absolute sweetheart. The other girl is my only student that to date has written down everything I have written on the board. The other boy has a part time job and sometimes I see him late at night delivering pizzas. He runs with the cool gangster crowd, but every time he sees me says “hi” to me, which I think he gets some flak from them for doing. Not only does he say “hi” to me, he starts up conversations and makes them talk to me too.
before and after fish chip inspiration.
I left 2.6 late because I was chatting with them, then realized that I still needed to print papers for 2.2 which I was supposed to teach immediately afterwards. Therefore I ran to class, was a bit late, and didn’t think that it was odd that two students met me in the hallway and walked me into class.
On the chalkboard all the students had written messages to me (including my favorite message written by Smart Alec as I’m going to call him, which read “Hi Emily. I’m fine thank you and you?” – my least favorite phrase in the entirety of the English language) and they had a song cued up on the computer. Without missing a beat the students started singing at the top of their lungs. I didn’t catch all the words, but I caught “thank you.”
After class (where we played American Geography & Flat Stanley Penpal Project Jeopardy and then wrote letters to the new English teacher introducing ourselves) some students came up and gave me coffee, notes, and I even got one picture of me with some of the girls at Sports Day. I love this class, there are so many fun personalities. There’s Smart Alec who was the only boy in my winter English camp and totally lived it up, being a total, well, smart alec. There’s ILY Boy as I’m going to call him, who every time and everywhere I see him (much like I Miss You So Much(e)) starts screaming “EMILY TEACHER I LOVE YOU.” Literally everywhere. There’s my Piano Prodigy who every Tuesday and Thursday rides the train into Seoul and takes piano lessons there because she’s just that darn good, who also happens to be amazing at English. There’s Rock On Boy, who when the other students came to greet me, gave me a fist bump instead of a handshake and then bragged to his friends that we were friends on facebook. I Miss You So Much(e) also came into this class at the end to rub it in everyone’s faces that he would see me on Friday. He’s somehow taller than me now, I don’t know if that’s a recent development or he’s just always been taller than me and I never quite noticed…
During class they told me not to cry, and cheered when I promised to visit them. I made them promise to be nice to the new English teacher, and they harrumphed but obliged. I’m going to miss class 2.2 so much it’s not even funny… this is the closest I’ve come to crying over leaving yet.
Here are some excerpts from 2.2′s student notes. I debated whether or not to post these because they’re private letters, and also it seems somewhat self-serving, and like I’m trying to make myself seem like a better teacher than I am, but I decided to post them for numerous reasons, the biggest reason being that it’s my gosh darn blog, so I can do what I want with it ^_^. Also , because I’ll be moving around so much in the next few years, there’s a good chance I could lose these notes, which would be tragic, so if I post them here at least I’ll still have the message.
To. Emily teacher
Hi, Emily teacher ~~
Today of the last lesson. so, I’m sad.
In the meantime Sapgyo for high school passion very thanks and take the trouble ^_^
Spent with a teacher time I’ll never forget.
Do you know?
Emily techer is attitude makes popular with students.
You are the best a native speaking instructor I’ve ever had.
I hope you go to a new school that’s plug along.
Good luck <3
Bye ~ Bye~
Hi Emily! I’m Piano Prodigy.
I heard that you leave the Sapgyo high school. So, I’m very sad. ㅠ_ㅠ.
I’ll never forget recollection with you and Young Rim. (Cheonan).
Emily! thanks for teaching me.
When you teaching me I feel very happy and fun.
I never forget you. Contact me!
goodbye, I love you! <3
I then ended the day with class 2.3 which has always been a hit or miss class. They’re very sweet, and they’re very well-meaning, but they’re also very loud, which combined with the fact that they’re low-level, can be a difficult combination to work with. Started the class off on the wrong foot, when I went to their classroom and half the students were missing. The class captain then burst into the room, started screaming at another student, and wouldn’t answer any of my questions or even acknowledge me, then stormed out of the room. I immediately followed, yelling her name down the hall, as other students kind of stared at me, and she turned out of my sight around a corner. She then immediately came back, with a bunch of choco pies stacked into a cake along with the other half of the class. They weren’t late or disrespectful, they were just trying to surprise me. Oops.
They then sang me a song but my camera died halfway through, whoops.
I only taught one class today. My 2.5 (low level, co-ed, second grade, approximately 25 students) class was cancelled due to a test, and because my co-teacher was busy and I’m awful at reading the schedule board I only found this out when I walked into their classroom and they were lined up in rows and were actually orderly for once. 2.5 is honestly my least favorite second grade class, and there have been many times where when preparing to go teach them, I wished that their class was cancelled. This is by far, according to all of the teachers, the hardest second grade class to handle. I actually get along well with most of the “bad” kids at my school, and I think that’s because I recognize when they’re acting out because they don’t understand versus when they’re trying to be disrespectful, and I can clarify the grammar and vocabulary one-on-one without getting mad, and thus correct their behavior. Many of the “hooligans” at my school turned out to be absolute sweethearts when they realized that if they needed help they should just ask. However, there are kids who act out because they don’t respect the teachers at this school and they don’t want to be at school, and it’s very difficult to get through to them. Class 2.5 consists mostly of the latter type of “bad” student. When redistributing students into new homerooms they took all of the worst behaved second grade girls and boys and put them in this one class, along with a handful of genuine sweethearts, and a few corruptibles. As a result, some of my favorite kids from last year became demons, the ones that I had issues with this year I have even more issues with now, the class captain is this cute small girl that tries hard but nobody listens to, and the handful of sweet kids kind of gets lost. Though it’s one of my least favorite classes, I’m genuinely sad it’s cancelled. I have no chance of closure, and I can’t say goodbye to the kids in there that I do like.
However I did get to say goodbye to class 1.3. 1.3 (low level, 1st grade, co-ed, 29 students) has always been fun to teach, but a bit bipolar. The class is split 50-50 between girls and boys. The boys are loud, for the most part have pretty good English for a low-level class, and dominate class discussions. The girls are quieter, goof off, chat, and check their hair and makeup in their mirrors constantly. It’s not that the boys are better than the girls, it’s just that the boys pay attention better and try harder. Some of my favorite first grade students are in this class.
It wasn’t the best of classes – I didn’t get the rapt attentiveness I was hoping for (it is, afterall, the last week of classes) and because of the letters we’re writing to the next Sapgyo High School teacher, class trickled over and ended awkwardly with students rushing towards me to give me their letters, others asking for more time, and others running out the door to go to music class. At the end of class I had one of my favorite students (we’ll call him Hapkido because one day he came in with a broken foot due to sparring in hapkido, then got super excited when I told him I did hapkido too. Turns out he’s a 3rd degree black belt – yikes!) who had rushed out of the door to go to music come back to find me so he could say goodbye.
“I.will.always.remember.me? is right?”
“I will always remember you?”
“Yes! also will send email”
“I will always remember you too, Hapkido. Thanks for being a great student. Please send me an email!”