How to survive life in Korea: Be flexible and open to beautiful encounters

Friday morning, 8:35 AM. My co-teacher and I were standing by the window, basking in a sliver of sunlight and enjoying a soothing cup of tea.

Mrs Lee was telling me about 꽃샘추위 (got sem chewy) – “the winter is jealous of the new season’s flowers”. It explains a lot, really. Just as the weather was starting to warm up, the city of Daegu once again got caught in an icy cold spell, winter’s last attempt to hold on to the world. You see, winter doesn’t like the flowers or the warmth, it is jealous of their happiness. Soon the whole city will be covered in cheery cherry blossoms and winter will truly be gone.

“I think all languages have beautiful things in it,” my co-teacher mused, and I wistfully agreed.

A moment later, the spell was broken as 14 pairs of fourth grader feet came pitter pattering into the classroom. My co-teacher hurried to meet them (it was only 8:40 AM, the students were about 20 minutes too early). “잠깐만 기다려 주세요,” she called, meaning “wait a minute, please”.

After a brief conversation she turned to me and explained that on Fridays, classes will start at 8:40 AM (a fact that both her and I had just learned at that moment). We sprung into action. She nimbly organised them into their seating arrangements (it was our first time seeing them) while I got the materials ready for our introduction lesson.

As the day went on, we were both buzzing from our early start and the momentum you get from an unexpected surprise (can there be expected surprises? I need an editor). We glided through our five classes (three fourth grade classes, two fifth grade classes) and it was a top-notch day. At the end of it, we reflected on our lesson and admitted to each other that we were both quite nervous about co-teaching (it had been our first time teaching together).

I have long since learned that the best response to challenges is to follow the words on my new favourite cup:

The first few weeks in Korea can be daunting, overwhelming and confusing, but it can also be exhilarating. With so many conflicting emotions happening all at once, it’s important to remember to breathe, reflect and have fun. There’s beauty all around us and I for one want to drink it all in. Every moment is an opportunity for growth and fulfilment, no matter what gets thrown in your path.

In the words of Russian author Nadezhda Mandelstam (Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned):

Expect nothing and be ready for anything – that was the key to sanity.

There are many ways to find your inner peace and learn to deal with unexpected situations. I find comfort in reading or my colouring book for adults. Find a hobby, become part of a community, have tea with your co-workers. At my last school I made friends with the music teacher. Neither of us could say much more than hello, yes and thank you in each other’s languages, but we bonded over a mutual like of second lunch and Radiohead. Sometimes you just need someone to slurp your noodles with in silence. It’s amazing how much smoother life becomes when you’re flexible and in tune with other humans.

This post and others like it by other EPIK e-Press members can be found on the EPIK e-Press website by clicking here.


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