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.

Last Images: The Final Month in Korea (Day 1)

One month from today, I’ll board at plane at the Seoul-Incheon International Airport. It will take me to the Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport and then straight  into Lexington on the wings of the night. To celebrate my final month in Korea, I’m hosting a “Last Images” series. Each day, I’ll take a random photo and then share it with you.

Today’s photo is the image of construction right outside of my bedroom window. Enjoy.

The view from my window.

The view from my window.

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.

An Absolutely True Story About An Absolutely Normal Friday

This an absolutely true story of an absolutely normal Friday.

This afternoon, I am certain that I slipped into an alternate universe after climbing the large hill that would take me into town so I could catch the bus home. Allow me to explain in the only way I know how.

After conquering the hill that takes  me into central Seogwipo, I heard a faint “Excuse me! Excuse me!” coming from a car along the street. I stopped to find a woman in her late 40s, early 50s calling out to me. Honestly, I thought she was another one of my coteachers; I have been meeting new people all week. Instead, the woman asked if I was a teacher and if I had a moment so she could practice English. Before my brain could process anything, I said that I had about 30 minutes. The woman then took me inside a coffee shop where we had peach iced tea. As it turns out, her daughter-in-law owned the coffee shop, her husband is on the Jeju Island Council, and she learned English on her own. If I remember correctly, she said that she learned English by listening to recordings of the Bible being read in English. She said that she has a group of women that practice English and that she had many English conversation partners in the past who were English teachers. Do I usually take offers from strangers? Absolutely not. My mother didn’t raise an idiot. However, I was glad I stopped for tea. 

After the strange tea incident, I went to the post office and then boarded a bus for home. Feeling a bit frisky, I took a different bus, which would go the long way around town. As soon as I stepped on the bus, an elderly Korean man noticed me. The dialogue was as follows:

HELLO! I LIKE FOREIGNERS! (This is from the front to the back of the bus). THE UNITED STATES IS SO GREAT! I LOVE THE UNITED STATES!

May I mention to my readers that this was not in coherent English. After the bus pulls away and everybody is aware of the presence of a waygook (foreigner) on the bus, the man ceases to speak. However, when he rings the bell to get off the bus, the man stops, and in brilliantly loud English says WELCOME TO SEOGWIPO! IT WAS NICE TO MEET YOU! (SOMETHING ABOUT THE UNITED STATES)! The man did not say this while getting off the bus, but he was standing there as the bus door was open, holding up the whole route. I will be forever known as the foreigner that held up the bus route.

I thought I was now out of the way of awkward situations. Now it was time to ride the bus back to where I needed to go.

I was wrong.

Before long, I am the only one left on the bus and the bus driver stops at the “Loyal Souls Cemetery” bus stop for his 20-minute break. He asked where I needed to go, and then he got off, made a phone call, and smoked a cigarette. Now I’m by myself at the Loyal Souls Cemetery terminal end of a bus route with a smoking bus driver who speaks a bit of English. This has happened before; I’m no stranger to riding a full bus route. However, the time at Loyal Souls was eerily wonderful. I’m not one to feel sentimental about nature or secluded places, but the Loyal Souls 20-minute stop made me feel strangely welcome and warm.

I eventually made it back to the Jungang Rotary, where I caught my bus home, and slipped back into the familiar. This may be a normal Friday for most people: encountering English language learners and non-American USA enthusiasts while riding to a cemetery.  However, today will be the day I believe I slipped into a stranger world, a different plane of existence, if but for two hours (Okay, not really. But you get my point).

Today is the day I lived an absolutely true story about an absolutely normal Friday.

geon bae!

Sarah