A kindness of Koreans

When you’re living abroad, in a culture that’s so different from your own, it’s easy to feel lonely and isolated at work.

Hell, it’s easy to feel lonely and isolated in your own damn country, never mind Korea.

That is why, when you have moments where you feel included, not alienated, it’s important to record these moments and store them away for those times when you feel like a raft floating out at sea.

One such moment occurred just this morning, just a few minutes ago, in fact. But let me backtrack a bit and start at the beginning.

When I came back to Daegu this year, I wasn’t very happy with the fact that I was placed at two schools. I definitely knew it was a possibility, EPIK made sure I know that it would probably happen, but in my mind I was going to one school where I would bond with teachers and students and we would have a grand old time, just like last time.

Instead, I float between two schools, belonging to neither and I often find myself alone or in stressful encounters with students and colleagues. I feel like I don’t stay anywhere long enough for anyone to get used to me. People are polite and nice, but I’m often disregarded by students and teachers. I don’t blame them, it’s the nature of transience to come and go: we all do it, we protect ourselves from things that are impermanent so as not to get hurt when they leave. If any country knows about teachers coming and going, it’s Korea, and I can’t be cross about that. Just sad.

So imagine my delight when, after months of being shy in my presence, the gym teacher at my second school suddenly started giving me attitude. I asked him (in my broken Korean) if the new brand of coffee was nice and he replied jokingly that I must give him chance to taste it first. I’ve also been on a strict diet, one I didn’t know he knew or cared about, but when he spotted chicken nuggets on my plate he asked intrigued if my diet is now over? You don’t realise how much you take casual human interaction like that for granted.

Then, the best night happened. We had a school dinner and the gym teacher made sure I knew about it, even offered me a ride. I was a bit hesitant, because the last dinner was really nice except that no one talked to me. This time was completely different. I tried my best to speak Korean, they tried their best to understand, and we ended up staying at the restaurant laughing and talking until past 10 at night on a Friday! And it wasn’t just the shy gym teacher either, the admin staff and homeroom teachers were chatting to me too – even the principal!

I felt really happy. It feels good to be included.

Then, this morning, the gym teacher brought me a Canola oil gift pack for Chuseok, the Korean harvesting festival which starts tomorrow (no school for five days!) Just knowing that someone thought about me, to include me on a list even though they really didn’t have to, makes me feel immensely touched.

I can breathe for another day.

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