I have realized that I don’t have good days and bad days but that all days have a bunch of tiny battles and on days where I win more small battles than I loose, I win the war of the day. Life in Korea is full of highs and lows. There are amazing moments and awkward moments and lonely moments filling my days, often back to back. My days are as varied as the mysterious meats I have sampled and just like the meats, some are better than others.
I’ll start with some highs, because there are more of these than anything else. Life abroad can be a challenge but there is so much more good than bad.
A 6 year old girl in pigtails and glasses learning her ABC’s asked one of the Korean teachers to translate something for her in the middle of class. After getting the words she needed she waddled her way over to me with big eyes and shouted “I love you!” and gave me a hug. Heart.Melted.
Seeing a student outside of school riding by on her bicycle with friends, face lighting up at the sight of me and yelling “Leah Teacher!” waving enthusiastically. I love seeing students outside of school, they always seem genuinely excited to see me and fills me up with joy.
Having a lesson that you designed, worked on and gathered resources for come to fruition. Seeing the kids engaged and learning. Everyone having fun and the material is clicking. Those are moments when I think I could really see myself teaching longer term…
But…then there are…
The lows often come when you are least expecting them, when your guard is down you get thrown a curve ball. I always look for the lesson in these but sometimes it is just hard.
About five days after learning what ‘idiot’ is in Korean and realizing one of the 7 year olds was shouting it at me. Imagine a classroom full of rowdy kids shouting idiot at the teacher who is completely oblivious and handing out stickers to them, speaking in a sing-song voice with a big smile on her face. Ouch.
Realizing that lesson plan your put your time, energy and excitement into is a massive miss and the kids don’t relate or understand you and are way more interested in telling stories about cartoon characters killing each other than they are in partaking in your fun, quirky prepositions lesson.
The good and bad are almost always accompanied by the awkward. My best advice for someone travelling or moving abroad is to lean into the awkward. Embrace it, make it your best friend, because you can’t avoid it, it is everywhere all the time.
An hour and a half company lunch where the Korean teachers speak to each other exclusively in Korean and don’t say more than two sentences to me and my co-worker the whole time. We always sit together and they will even rearrange our plates so that we are in the corner together. We uncomfortably shovel food in our mouths and wonder what they are saying, if it is about us or if it is anything we need to know about work.
When the Korean teachers all get up at the same time without speaking and go get coffee together without telling or inviting us. Once I ran into them in the hallways on my way to get coffee and they were all holding theirs in hands and laughing together, a new level of inside joke. I took the stairs, they took the elevator. I do my best not to let it get to me but it is hard to feel excluded when you are by definition, being excluded (I mean…I really love getting coffee, why can’t I go too?).
(Also notable in the awkward category is my entire swimming experience)
I don’t want to sound like I am complaining because there is always more good than bad. Even though life in Korea is full of highs and lows and in-betweens I wouldn’t trade this experience in. Every single day I am full of gratitude for the wonderful, challenging and mind opening experience. I try to see every battle as a learning opportunity and I remind myself that I didn’t come here for this to be easy.
After all… If it doesn’t challenge me it doesn’t change me. That is my motto ,right?