We’ll Meet Again: The Final Post in Korea

We’ll Meet Again: The Final Post in Korea.

Author’s Note: I realize that I have no more to say about Korea. I’ve blogged my heart out this past year, and this is how I want to end the blogging adventure: on a positive note. It’s been over a year that we’ve shared this ride together, and I’m glad you’ve been with me. Please enjoy this final offering.

It was Johnny Cash who said in a cover song, “We’ll meet again / don’t know where / don’t know when, / but I know we’ll meet again / some sunny day.”

Last night was the Fulbright Final Dinner at the Hotel President in Seoul. We had a great view from our dining room on the 31st floor and the food was pretty good, too.  We reminisced about the past year, got a little emotional, and then we went on our separate ways. Some of these good people I may never see again. Some people, I may see again, but it may be for a very long time. Most importantly, I realized it may be a long time before I see Korea again.

You see, from the writing of this post, I have exactly 14 days left in South Korea. That’s two weeks. Last night, among the food and the looking back, I wondered if I made the right decision to leave Fulbright Korea. I started looking over the Seoul skyline, with it’s modern buildings and ancient mountains looming in the background, and wondered how I could ever leave this place. Then I remembered that a job and good apartment back in the States practically slid into my lap. I have nothing to complain about and I’m more than grateful. Perhaps it really is time for me to leave Korea, though I sometimes wonder if it is really time. I wonder if I’ll ever be back.

All reminiscing aside, this year has been fantastic. There have been bumps along the way, sometimes disappointments in myself and others, but overall, this has been the year I’ll never forget. I imagine that I’ll tell my children and grandchildren about the time I lived in Korea. Maybe they’ll be really impressed. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s been the year of a lifetime and I’ll look back with no regrets.

geon bae for the final time,

Sarah

Seoul, Republic of Korea

Sunday, June 30, 2013 

Thanks, credits, and all around good feelings:

I’d like to take a moment to thank Fulbright Korea, the Fulbright staff, and the Office for their continued support throughout this year. I can only imagine the paperwork and endless hours it takes to manage 140 foreign teachers. I am eternally grateful.

Also, to my wonderful host family. Though you’ll probably never read this, thank you for everything these last 10-11 months. Your love and generosity made it feel as if I never left the United States. Thank you.

Stateside, I’d like to thank all of the support I’ve received at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. To Dr. Rosemary Allen, who suggested that I apply to Fulbright in July 2011 (and for filling out all of those recommendation forms for my job applications), I extend another special thanks. To Dr. John Sadlon, Dr. Todd Coke, and Dr. Yoli Carter (for completing the Fulbright reference forms two years ago), I extend a special thanks. Without your willingness to take a few minutes out of your time, I would not be sitting in Seoul, working on this blog post (or teaching 520 middle school girls).

I’d also like to thank my family: Sandy, Kathy, and Joshua Carey for hanging with me this year. I guess it’s been different for you all with me gone, and I’m not sure. However, thank you for your support and willingness to let me go for a year. I look forward to new adventures when I’m home.

Don’t forget to hang with me, starting July 14th, on www.runawaysister.wordpress.com

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Tidbits for Tuesday, June 18th.

Well, I tired to do the “photo-a-day” thing for my blog, but it doesn’t always work out that way. So, it may be more of a “When Sarah gets around to taking a picture blog post.”

In the meantime, here’s what’s been happening in a Different Kind of South:

  1. Yesterday I attended a workshop for creative co-teaching. Though I was puzzled on why I had to attend (I mean, have I have 25 days left in Korea and now I’m not even lesson planning), it was a good workshop. I’m a sucker for professional development.
  2. Yesterday I gave my final schedule to my host family. It was awkward and everyone was like “So, you’re not coming back?” Yeah. That’s about right.
  3. It’s less than two weeks until the Fulbright Final Dinner. Essentially, it’s a fond farewell to Korea with (hopefully) good food.

In defense of rural people and places.

Yesterday, I had a good conversation with one of my students. She speaks English very well (the result of years of learning English at school and going to English academy after school), and has lots of opinions about Korea. She was especially troubled at the bias against students in rural areas.

Paraphrased, this is what she said, “Teachers tell us that students in Seoul are so much better and are under so much more stress than we are. But we take the same tests as they do, and we do the same things as we do. The problem with Korea is that they think that bigger is better. They think Jeju is less because we’re not Seoul.”

I told her that Korea is not alone in its rural bias. It is alive and well in the USA, too.

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky – and by small, I mean 200 people (as recorded by the 2000 US Census). We have one general store, 6 churches, and a school building that no longer functions as a school. We have to go to the next county over if we want Wal-Mart or a hospital or a quality Mexican restaurant. Because of the lack of resources, many people are leaving. I believe this is the story of many rural towns, not just mine in Kentucky.

But, perhaps it’s time to stand up for rural America and her people.

Despite the lack of resources and even perceived isolation at the local levels – rural America is good at heart. While there is a lack of modern entertainment, “good” schools, and general bustle, the rural setting is a place of quiet thoughtfulness. The days are longer, the nights a bit darker, and the silence? Well.  sometimes deafening.

But, in my experience, rural America has nurtured a constant sense of pure amazement. Ask me how I feel anytime I get on a subway in Seoul. I can’t stop thinking about how people can dig miles of tunnels underground and stick trains in them. Ask me how I feel when I get on an airplane. Freaking amazing. Ask me what it’s like when I’m in Kentucky and I see a plane flying overhead. I feel like someone’s on a good adventure. Ask me what it’s like to overlook a city skyline and then lament the lack of green space. All too real.

If anything, students in rural areas (whether the USA or Korea), may have a greater appreciation for the world at hand. For it is this “isolation” from the big cities that helps develop a sense of wonder and amazement at the world beyond the fragile city limits. In a big city, there’s everything to see and do. In rural settings, it’s all to the imagination.

So, I say to my students at my (somewhat) rural island school, take your imagination and run with it. The size of a city does not measure one’s intellect or potential. If my fate depended on the fact that I was born near and raised in a 200-person town, I probably would have never went to a top Kentucky college or became a Fulbright scholar.

In the end and in defense of rural people and rural places, I say that we are bigger dreamers, harder workers, and the most creative. Sure, we’ll have to drive a bit to get to a hospital, theater, restaurant, or supermarket, but all of these amenities can never add up to the constant feeling of amazement and wonder.

geon bae!

Sarah

Now we’re finished.

Today, June 10, is the beginning of the end. Today signifies the initiation of the speeding downward-slope of the end of my grant year. Ladies and gentlemen, I was around 32 days left in Korea and it’s not without some bitterness. I also say it’s the end because for the next three weeks, I am conducting speaking exams. After the three weeks, I have two weeks, one of which is consumed by exams. Essentially, I have one week left to teach my students and then be on my way.

For example, this morning I realized I was finally, completely at ease in Korea. It took over 10 months, but I woke up and realized that it’s no longer a strange place to be. I guess that’s what happens when you live abroad. I ate my bagel with cream cheese and jam, and realized that strangely enough, I was home. Sure, I’ll be jetting out of Korea in a little over a month, but for now I am home.

I have also struggled with a teaching slump. For you teachers out there, you probably know what I’m talking about: the inability to plan a lesson, the constant distraction of the Internet or something that isn’t lesson planning. You know that tug. During my teacher slump, I started evaluating myself. I realized that I was in the slump because I was stressed and afraid. Afraid I wasn’t making a difference, stressed that my students probably don’t care about English as much as I do.

Then, my mother, in her infinite wisdom, helped solve my funk.

In a roundabout way, she said “Sarah, you can’t make all the difference. You’re just planting the seed and other teachers in the future will water it.”

I then realized that it’s not all on me to change the scope of my students’ lives. Sure, I’m an important part, but I’m not the gardener and the harvester. I should probably not be as hard on myself. So, thankfully, I can report that I’m climbing out of the teacher slump. Hooray!

In the meantime, allow me to participate in some shameless plugging. I love blogging, and I’ve already launched my post-Korea blog. Of course, I won’t be posting until after I leave Korea, but if you don’t mind, can you check it out (and maybe even subscribe)? You can check out Runaway Sister here.

geon bae!

Sarah

Eleven.

Eleven months ago today, I boarded an itty bitty US Airways plane bound for Charlotte, North Carolina, then to LA, and eventually to Seoul-Incheon. A year ago this month, I was giving little talks about Korea to various groups, thinking that the year couldn’t possibly go by this fast.

Now, here I am with 40-ish days remaining in Korea. Life has slowed down to a normal pace here in Korea. It seems more like everyday living, yet at the same time, my life in the USA is beginning to start. I’ve got a job and new apartment awaiting me when I get home. It will be like a new adventure, only on home turf.

But now is not the time to wax reminiscent for Korea. I haven’t even left yet! Instead, I’ll give you tidbits of life so far here in the ROK.

  • Lots of tests are on the horizon for my students. Between achievement tests and finals in July, they’re testing up to their eyeballs.
  • This week I think a member of the Jeju Board of Education is coming to observe. I’m not sure who s/he is observing, but that’s all I know.
  • I’m really proud of my lunch club students. They ask great questions, and as a result, expect great answers.
  • More now than ever, my students are obsessed with my relationship status.
  • I’m learning how to say goodbye. I realize that this is the beginning of my final full month in Korea. I’m not sure how to accept it.
  • The weather has went from cold to blazing hot with 100% humidity to just right. That’s the way I like it. Just right.
  • There’s a few more restaurants in town I’d like to try before I leave. I better hop on it!
  • Memorial Day is this Thursday in Korea. That means no school, among other things.

Lots of things happening. However, there are a few things I’m looking forward to upon my return to the USA. A few examples are:

  • Mexican food. Oh, the Mexican food. The enchiladas, the fajitas, the cheese, the salsa, oh the south of the border fiesta that is Mexican food.
  • Open spaces. Korea is a compact country with buildings stacked on one another with little openness. Back home in Kentucky, it’s greenery as far as the eyes could see. I thought I’d never miss it, but you never know until it’s gone.
  • The libraries.
  • Speaking English on a regular basis.

geon bae!

Sarah

Little children of the world.

“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” 

If you grew up in church, you might remember this song from Sunday School. Though it’s been a while since I sang this song, it rang out to me yesterday during a discussion with a student.

At my new English Lunch Club, a handful of some of my most eager students joined me for lunch, The objective? Just speak in English while we eating yum-yum chicken and rice. Some of the students have a very good control of the English language, while some know very little. Regardless of their ability, my students love learning English and practicing with me.

Towards the end of the lunch period, one of my students said that she was on a diet. This is not unusual in Korea. There’s plastic surgery on every corner. But this student was talking about how she wanted to take medicine so she would be skinny. She wants to visit the United States, but she said she was afraid she would be laughed at because she was short and Korean.

I’m not too easily moved, but this broke my heart.

I quickly told the student that she was not fat and that she didn’t need a diet. I told her that the United States has Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Black, European, African, fat, skinny, tall, and short people. You name it. We’ve got it. I even told her that in the USA, if two people of different colors love one another, they can get married. My student was shocked at the diversity in the United States. She even asked “Really?!” at the thought of there being so many kinds of people in one country.

If you didn’t already know, Korea is a homogeneous nation. Around 97-99% of people born in Korea are ethnically Korean. So, when a foreigner comes around, it might be easy for a Korean student to assume that all Americans (for example) are tall, with pale skin, and blue eyes. This is even easier to believe if their teacher fits this example.

So when I told my student that the USA has lots of kinds of people, it possibly changed her view of the world. I told her that because she was Korean, that lots of people would want to get to know and learn more about her. The USA is not just a far-away land of pale, blue-eyed people, but a wonderful mixture of almost every nation on the planet.

Yesterday, I think I may have made a difference.

That’s why I became a teacher.