Why I decided to come home...
Trip Start Aug 25, 2012
17Trip End Feb 25, 2013
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If you have been keeping up with my social media, you may have noticed that I have been struggling with my time in Korea. I was told that I was going to be living in Dangjin, but I actually live 20 minutes outside of Dangjin in a little town called Shin Pyeong. A bunch of other Native English Teachers live together in Dangjin, but I am the only NET who lives in Shin Pyeong. This means that I spend most of my time either at school or alone in my apartment. I have made an effort to make friends who live in other cities and travel to see them on the weekends, but that doesn't make up for the fact that the majority of my time is spent alone.
I also have been having issues with my school. I teach at 2 different middle schools, with 7 different Korean English Teachers, I teach 22 classes of 30 or more students each, and I have more than 700 students total. I expected the students to be a little unruly, they are teenagers after all, but I wasn't expecting this. The kids beat each other up all the time. Seriously, they just pound on each other. It isn't particularly serious, but I have seen kids dragging other kids through the hallways by their hair, slapping each other in the face, wrestling on the floor. They aren't trying to do damage to each other, but there is absolutely no repercussion for this fighting. The only punishment for fighting or misbehaving is that most of the teachers carry a stick of some kind to hit the kids with. I don't hit the students. I don't believe that hitting is an appropriate punishment (I mean seriously, you are going to hit a kid to punish him for hitting someone? How does that make ANY sense?) and it obviously isn't working. The kids shrug it off and go back to their business of being holy terrors.
My students come in a vast range of levels, some of them don't know how to spell their own name using English letters, others are practically more fluent than the Korean English Teachers. Most of them don't care to pay attention during class. This means that kids are smacking each other, chatting in Korean, drawing, or sleeping during my class. I struggle to find information that is interesting and engaging and it breaks my heart when my students don't care. I have started saying things like "I need to not take pride in my work. If you are proud of something and someone dismisses it, that hurts. If I didn't have pride, this wouldn't hurt so much." How terrible is that? How heart breaking is it that we have to feel that way? But, that is what I have had to try to do to emotionally remove myself from this. Otherwise I would be breaking down in tears during class every day.
That is why it didn't surprise me when I found at that the two teachers prior to me didn't stay for their entire contract either. I think that is what caused me to start considering coming home early. I am not the only one who has struggled with this and the others decided to leave because of it.
But, then I would have a good day and it would flip my world upside down. I bonded with a student and it made my heart ache to think of leaving. A teacher said something nice to me about all of my hard work and I felt my pride return. I started to go on adventures with other NETs on the weekends and I was enjoy myself. I like Korea. I like living in Korea and doing Korean things. Most of my Korean co-teachers are kind to me and have been generous about helping me get settled in Korea. But, I want so badly to go home. I love this, and I hate it at the same time.
I waffled. I can't have a good time and still want to go home. I started feeling anxious when I would have a good day, because I thought it meant that I would need to stay for the entire year. In my mind, there were two options and only two options: enjoy Korea completely and stay for the year, hate Korea completely and come home early.
During my recent trip to Seoul I had a conversation that opened my eyes. I was talking to Cheryl and she was telling me about how she was feeling homesick and missing her friends. I watched her as her eyes misted up while she described her feelings to me on the streets of Insadong. Cheryl has the perfect situation in Korea. She has brilliant and well behaved students who are in a private foreign language school because they have applied to get in and have been accepted. Cheryl is living here, with her husband, in a large city near numerous friends. You couldn't construct a better living situation for a NET if you tried. If Cheryl can have these feelings, I absolutely can! She isn't going to go home early, but her feelings gave mine a sudden validation that they had previously been lacking.
So I made the decision that I would stay in Korea, but not for as long as I had previously expected. My plan is to wring every drop of enjoyment that I can out of my time here. I will teach my classes to the best of my ability (and try to steel myself against my harsh critics) and on the weekends I will travel. I will go to festivals, I will hike in the mountains, I will go to temples, I will meet other NETs and we will party and have fun. I will look back on this 6 months and be proud of the work that I did and what I saw and was able to do. I won't regret coming home after just a few weeks. I won't regret staying for longer than made me happy. I will teach for a full semester, give my notice according to my contract, and then come home. I will not be ashamed of "quitting", I will be proud that I made a plan that was exactly what I needed it to be.
So, I am coming home.