Goodness, last week I was an emotional wreck. (I was also very cold, but that’s besides the point.) I’ve already decided not to renew my contract and I’m all set to move to Seoul next year to pursue writing full-time. I’m all ready, you see, and then those kids looked at me with their big, brown eyes and I lost all of my resolve.
I just don’t want to leave them.
It’s the students that make this whole experience worthwhile. Sure, they can seriously make you question your sanity at times, but more often than not they just fill your days with goodness. And who couldn’t use more of that in their lives?
The first time I left Korea, I had the same problem. I just get too attached.
It’s not quite time to say goodbye yet, but my time as a writer for EPIK e-Press has come to an end.
There are so many things from this experience that I will take with me on my next journey. There’s something about living in a foreign country that just accelerates growth.
5 things I’m taking away from the experience
1. Children need to be creative.
This might sound very obvious, but I feel creativity is something we all neglect in our day-to-day struggle to reach the top. As teachers, we forget about it, because we need to get through the textbook. Students forget about it too, because they need to get good marks to get into good middle schools, high schools and universities. The academic pressure is so high even from a very young age and creativity is low on the agenda.
Which is why, I think, the students enjoyed my classes, especially the after-school ones. We were silly, we made things, we explored the world around us. The picture above is from a recent activity I did with my sixth grade class. We studied comparatives and made a music video using the lyrics from the song, “An elephant is bigger than a flea.”
I made a few movies, but here is one that doesn’t have my students’ faces in it:
2. Teachers need to play too.
My husband made these wands during our summer camps at both our schools. We ended up having just as much fun as the students, waving wands around and casting spells. Schools can be stressful environments at times, whether here or in South Africa, the pressure to be serious doesn’t change.
Sometimes, you need a little silliness to get you through the day.
3. We don’t control the universe.
Oh, how desperately I need to learn this. Over and over again, I’m reminded that the world does not revolve around my needs. The best way to learn this, is to live in Korea and to work with children. Every day is a mystery. You might plan for a sunny weekend away and the rain will pour down for three days straight. You cannot control other people; their thoughts, their feelings, or their emotions. You can manage the classroom, sure. You can try to create an environment where everyone feels safe and included. But when you fail, and you will fail, it’s important to try again. And to see it for what it is: an opportunity to do better next time.
4. To children, you are larger than life.
I have self-confidence problems. Years of school debating taught me how mask my shyness, but sometimes when I’m in front of the classroom I can feel sweat drops of terror roll down my back. In my mind, the students have already decided that I’m a loser. And of course, there are naughty kids who don’t listen whose behaviour reinforces my own belief that I am worthless.
And then, a kid will give you a drawing like the one above, and you get that out-of-body experience that makes you realise: I’m an adult. I have the power. They are scared of me; they don’t know how terrified I am of them.
I really want to be the person these little artists see when they’re drawing me. Hopefully, one day I can be.
5. Doenjang-jiggae is life
This fermented soyabean stew with tofu, vegetables, beef, crab, shrimp, whatever you can find does not sound appetising at first. In fact, many Koreans are surprised by how much I like this dish. “Isn’t it too salty?” “Doesn’t the smell bother you?” “Can you eat spicy food?” I found that, one of the best ways to integrate is through food. It was also a way to bond with my students. I made sure that they knew how much I love this dish, and it became a point of commonality between us. Throughout the year, whenever we had a food lesson I would use my love of Doenjang-jiggae to make them laugh and get them excited about the lesson to come.
Anyway, here’s a video of my latest feast: