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

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.

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

A Different Kind of South: Birthday Edition

dat baby

That’s me on March 4th, 1990, 7 days after I was born on February 25th, 1990.

22 years and 364 days ago, my mom was eating spaghetti (at least I think that’s how the story goes) and then I was like “LOL, time to get born, so get on to the hospital.” My February 25 birthdays have come and gone. I remember on my 7th birthday, I couldn’t recall if it was my birthday because I

Thanks parents!

Thanks parents!

had just been released from the hospital for pneumonia.  I distinctly remember asking if it was my birthday. Sometimes we forget. Of course, there was my 10th, 16th, 20th, and 21st birthdays. All very good ones.

The boy came 5 years later. I'm sure glad he did!

The boy came 5 years later. I’m sure glad he did!

For my 23rd birthday though, I’ll be abroad. I’ve never been abroad on my birthday, but it’s been quite the adventure. If you would have told my parents 23 years ago today that “23 years from this very day, the day before your daughter’s birthday, she will be living on a Korean island, eating sea urchin guts, and sucking down snail meat,” they’d laugh because they couldn’t imagine that far down the road. I don’t think any parent can. But nevertheless, I’ve graduated college, made good friends, and here I am, almost 23 years later, celebrating my birthday with my Korean family. There’s been special galbi dinner, cream and milk cake, peeling oyster things off of rocks, and even an eel in a bowl that plumb scared me out of the room to the hilarity of my host family. This has been a good birthday and it hasn’t even started.

Overall, if someone were to ask me right now (preferable a handsome Korean newsman), “Sarah, how would you rate your life after 23 years on a scale of 1 to 5?” I’d give that handsome Korean newsman a 4.98. 23 years ago, my life was on the brink of just getting better and better. I have no regrets and I think I’ve made healthy life choices. Here’s to birthdays. Here’s to my biological family. Here’s to my Korean family. Here’s to another fabulous 23 years.

geon bae!

Sarah

Friday Tidbits

Tidbits. Because if I wrote a full post with big girl paragraphs, I’d collapse from exhaustion.

  • Winter Camp. I finished my next-to-last day of my 5-day English camp at my all-girls’ middle school. I initially dreading having to do a winter camp, as I thought all we would be able to do is English drills. However, my coteacher encouraged me to have fun with it and this week has been a blast. It’s funny how you think they things you don’t want to do turn out to be great. I was also on the receiving end of a few Valentines yesterday, and that’s never bad.
  • Renewing. Earlier this week, the Fulbright office emailed all of us, asking if we were interested in renewing our grants. I have been immersed in thought about this for weeks, no, months. I submitted the survey, noting that I was interested in renewing as a last resort. It was then a few days later that I made my decision: I will be leaving South Korea in July when my contract ends. This was not an easy decision, and I went back and forth in my mind for a long, long time. However, one of my dreams is to be a teacher in the USA, and I’d like to begin the next phase of my life. South Korea has treated me well, and though I still have a little under 5 months remaining in my grant term, I feel as if closure has already begun. It will be sad to leave my school, my co-teacher, and especially my wonderful host family, but I plan on making these 5 months count. I honestly believe that I may be back in Korea to teach again someday, so I know this book is not fully closed. 
  • Seoul Next Week! Next week, I’m going to Seoul for a few days of relaxation before the new semester begins. I really would like to visit a few museums. Girls like museums.

geon bae!

Sarah