April is just around the corner and that means that May will soon be here too. For me this time of year reminds me that I have been in Korea nearly 2 years. I spend my free time thinking about all that has transpired within this time.
Certainly what sticks out the most to me is that the way I feel about Korea today is nearly completely different from when I first got here. Of course that would make sense, right? But actually, I feel that as I go into creating my 3rd year here in Korea my attitude and outlook on the place is also very different than the first year.
When I first came to Korea I was 26 years old and now I am 28 (American age). My first job was at a hagwon (private school) and I understand now that it was this first experience at that place that shaped my mindset for the months to come.
The first 3 months of my life here in Korea were about survival and adaptation. It took forever to find certain essential things and also find my way to particular places. My Korean was pretty basic, yet I had a good grasp of being able to read it.
I remember my first 3 months busily trying to adapt to working at the hagwon. Coming in early to prepare work and finding myself hungry and tired during the last class before I came home. There were many times, I can recall, riding the subway home and trying not to cry in front of strangers.
The Korean workplace is a whole different experience than what I was familiar with. I feel because I crashed and burned so hard with my fellow Korean coworkers that it scarred me. During that time I couldn't understand why my Korean coworkers were so bitter around me. We had fights and arguments, all of which lead me to grow a habit within myself, that of distrust. I began to believe that I could never trust my Korean coworkers. That they would never be able to understand the foreigner perspective. It is this mindset that kept on getting in my way at my future jobs.
In the beginning, I was fragile and weak. The long hours and stressful work environment made me wonder if being an expat was always full of hardships.
But really at that time I was a new face amongst the expat crowd here. Everything seemed so new and different and every new place I went was thrilling.
I managed to quit the hagwon and move to a public school. That was a very dark and stressful time of my life. Things between me and my exboyfriend were crumbling and falling apart. I needed his support and good words but mostly what I got from was half-hearted. Yet, at the time I knew I needed to make money and get my career out here back on track.
My new school moved me into a terrible new home. First it was a room with no window that had cigarette smoke pumped into it from neighboring tenants. Then with enough nagging I got moved into a room across the hall with a window. It didn't change the fact that the place was a dump.
There I was alone and feeling treated wrongly by new school. I couldn't believe that people would put someone to live in such a shit-hole. Because of this I grew very resentful of my new coteacher and the staff at my new school. This combined with what I took from the hagwon, which was that I couldn't trust my Korean coworkers. Needless to say, this was a recipe for more disaster.
As I look back I only see all the potential that was wasted. For example, my old public school had it's own classroom. It was also considerably small in class size and my schedule wasn't overloaded. However, I didn't really care about making new materials or decorating the classroom. I only put my energy into the after school classes because it was the most difficult aspect of the job. (No curriculum, 20 energetic students). I also spent extremely little time getting to know my coteacher. The first one seemed not to interested in me so it wasn't much of a problem. But the second coteacher was a very kind and generous woman. Yet, because of my bitterness towards the school and that I still had not gotten over my distrust for Korean coworkers, we got off on the wrong foot.
Looking back I wish I had gotten to know her well and really worked more with her. She had already 3 years English teaching experience and really cared about their education. Also she was into the modern sense of teaching and liked to use new ideas. In other words, I know now what I threw away because of my personal choices.
And so here we are at my 3rd job here in Korea. I made a promise with myself that at this new school I would try hard to teach the kids well, make stunning lesson plans and try to care about my coteachers. From December to January it seemed I only cared about the first half of my promise. And ended up on the dark side of my coteachers, yet again. But February signaled another chance to get it right, since we were given new coteachers.
If you have been reading since that time then you would know how I had a big fallout (last week) and then a huge turn around.
Now I understand how to balance both my desire to make good lessons and keep my coteachers happy. I believe it is because I have come to realize so many things over the course of living here, but also because I have grown to accept the Korean way of things.
In addition, because of this weekend's KOTESOL conference, I was able to see that it is really about working on a team.
Yesterday I felt more aware of the people around me and my role. In the classroom I could see how, although I was the leader and teaching most of the time, I needed to bounce it back between myself and the coteacher. Then, after work, we went out to dinner and during this time I talked a lot with everyone and opened myself up. I did all this knowing that it is what is best for the team, and ultimately for the children.
Today was just another teaching day and I realize now that I ended up putting myself too much into my planning. But I have started to check with the coteacher about her opinion of the day's teaching and see how she feels. We are going to play a big game with the 6th graders tomorrow and I showed my excitement.
In the beginning, I was fragile and weak. Now, I am stronger and confident. Yet a part of me still feels like there is a hidden monster inside myself that could slip out without notice. I suppose the only thing I need to do is have a first-aid kit ready to go.