Wednesday, May 13, 2009
It's nearly midnight, and I'm sitting here realizing that in about 30 minutes, it'll be the first day of May. Granted, it would be the start of what would be a 4-day weekend, but it holds a little more sentimental value this time. It only felt like yesterday when I first got on that emotional long flight by myself to Korea, a place I had known little about, yet felt very drawn to. Arriving after 17 hours of being on an airplane, I quickly realized that for the first time in my life, I am alone by myself with no one directly looking after me, and being in a land where I cannot easily conjure up random conversations, or have the always dependable English signs and speakers to quickly ease any little to major concern. Though the latter statement, I can find quite a few English signs, but not so much the English-speakers unless I run across a foreigner. Yet more importantly, I was ready to start a job that I never thought I could do a couple of years back, and here I was, trying to give it another shot and doing it in a foreign land. Yes, those summed up many of massive concerns as I left O'Hare airport on that cold February day.
Yet as I write this, I feel like my life before Korea is eons ago. Unlike some of my fellow foreigner friends, I have yet to feel the homesickness that has gotten the best out of other people. In fact, I feel strangely detached from my homelife. I haven't been emotionally invested in my Chicago sports team. I haven't been listening to the latest music from the underground rock scene. I am not missing the fact that I am not going to any concerts/shows in America. I do miss the food here and there, but I've been more than content with the food that's accessible to me right now. My friends back home, I do miss, yet having Facebook and Skype has allowed me to soften the distant friendship blues. Granted, there obviously has been some disappointment and discontent with certain people, but I enjoy using the opportunity to be in a foreign land to wipe my slate clean, and make many more new friends.
I've been in Korea for two months, and never did I realize how much I have gained from being there. To say that it has been a life-changing experience is a severe understatement. I had spent most of 2008, and part of 2007 in the doldrums, and unfortunately feeling sorry for myself. That latter part was something that I had never succumbed to for the longest time. Last summer, being out of work and going through another round of unsuccessful interviews nearly drove me clinically-insane. I had yearned for the longest time to finally move out of my parents' home, and have a job that I can at least be proud of. So when the idea of traveling abroad came about, I listened and researched carefully. I knew that I had never done anything like this before, but I was sick and tired of feeling restrained, unproductive, and watching other people be able to live independently. So when I finally got on that airplane, I realized how much work I had done to prepare myself for what would be a long and rewarding adventure.
With my family, especially my parents, I have had many contentious moments with them for as long as I can remember, and I found myself having my worst fights with them during my job-hunt. Looking back, I am very thankful that my parents, especially my brothers, for being very supportive of me while I'm away. I never realized the magnitude that my presence had on them until I left. So, I left knowing that I am making them proud, and it is definitely an inexplicably great feeling that I carry with me to this day.
After visiting the EPIK booth to check in at Incheon International Airport, I found a few fellow EPIK people that were waiting for the charter bus to take us to our orientation venue. There, I found what would be two of my good friends, Melissa Smith and Ife Afolayan. To put this in a nutshell, I quickly became fast friends with them, and from that point on, I knew that I was going to be okay. I talked to Rob and Kate Cooke on the bus as well, and knew that I would be meeting many cool people from then on during my stay, and not as isolated as I had originally feared. In a nutshell, the orientation was everything that I could have hoped for, and then some. I left with such greater confidence being around a lot of unique individuals, and hearing many terrific speakers, and working closely with our orientation leaders who have helped many of us around the clock.
After leaving our orientation, we had a jolt of culture shock when we finally met our Korean co-teachers on a wet, cloudy afternoon. Luckily, those concerns were soon eased when I met Teacher Kim Eeunji, and the staff. Kim Euunji had never managed a native English teacher before, but I was quickly impressed at how kind and knowledgeable she was at helping me. I have heard horror stories about how native English teachers have clashed with their Korean co-teachers and school. Thankfully, this was not the case. My principal, vice-principal, my fellow Korean English co-teachers, and the entire school staff have embraced me with open arms, and I am eternally thankful for that.
I will never forget the first day when we had our assembly outside. They were introducing new Korean teachers, but being that I was the only foreign English teacher, I was given a special introduction. The students outside were clapping, but soon afterwards, I heard quite a bit of laughing and snickering. For a second, it really worried me, but then I realized that I either let the vultures in, or I find a way to take charge. From my very first class, I quickly took center stage and found myself earning the love and respect from my students. I'm no miracle worker, and in fact, I still feel like I have ways to go to becoming a better English teacher; however, I am more than pleased about how much confidence I've gained from working with my students and teachers.
Aside from watching my brothers when they were very little, as well as babysitting my younger relatives, I had never really gained any experience having a parental role with anyone. Teachers in Korea view their students as part of their own. We discipline them, we teach them, we encourage them, we listen to them, but most importantly, we love them. So I find myself taking on this new role, and learning to place my students ahead of myself. To me, it's not about just trying to earn a living, it's about having a job that benefits you as a person, and those are affected by your contributions. Though, I'm not old enough to be my students' parent, I do see them as more like my baby brothers as I mentioned quite often to a lot of people. I can joke with them, yet I command respect from them. Some moments, it's an epic battle; other moments, I feel like my school has made me feel like a kid all over again.
Before my camera broke :-(, I noticed how many videos and photos I have posted since leaving America. It's amazing how much I've been documenting my time since being here. Though all of this video blogging and such may make my Facebook profile look pretentious, I am not doing it to show it off though I was bragging about the good weather to all you Chicago folks back home LOL. The purpose of me doing all those vids/pics was to show what Korea looks like. I hear so many stories from people about where they want to travel. People that are interested in Asia talk about how they want to visit China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, but oftentimes, Korea gets overlooked quite a bit. Korea is like smackdab in the middle between China and Japan, and unfortunately, it never seems to stand out as the country that everyone wants to visit. So, I have unintentionally become this unofficial spokesperson for the Korean tourist industry. A lot of my friends, and many other people are unaware of what goes on in a country like Korea. Heck, a year ago, the only thing I knew about Korea is bulgogi, kimchi, and Seoul being their capital. I knew nothing about Busan, it's 2nd largest city, nor was I really familiar with the culture, language, and history. So I felt compelled to capture a lot of unique moments, and to hopefully give a better impression about the wonderful qualities that Korea has to offer. The videos give you an idea about the encounters that a lot of my friends and myself experience on a daily basis, and how we are all in this together to make our experiences work positively for us.
I look back at my friends back home, and my friends that I've made here, and I want to say once again how truly thankful I am to have your support and encouragement. I don't recall ever being this happy for this long of a time, and I give all of you the credit for contributing to this euphoric feeling. I am thankful that my life in the US has helped me get to where I am now. I am eternally grateful that my family's survival in Cambodia and Vietnam have taught me a thing or two about giving back and understanding the importance of having a survivor mentality, and I am completely thankful that being in a country like Korea has given me a chance to resurrect my life, and the much needed ammunition I need to get myself going again.