The men can say now "At least I'm not trapped down at the bottom of a mine." Certainly, veterans of war suffer, but many also shine with the quiet feeling that, from now on, life can never get quiet enough. People are trapped by circumstances; other people help them. There is a way out. Since this is the fable that every life hopes to trace, maybe the madness isn't so mad at all.For the past 2.5 years here in Korea I have felt trapped by my circumstances. What am I speaking about? Finding myself having a difficult time working with Korean people. Ever since I got to Korea and had a hard time at the hagwon, it felt like I had been fighting an endless fight. I know that my actions at the hagwon led to my coworkers reacting the way they did. I left there never making amends. The problems I developed there carried with me to the next school and the next. My casual and cold attitude is not palatable to Korean tastes.
For the longest time I always felt it was a battle I needed to win. That I needed to somehow change them and by my indifferent ways that could be achieved. But we all know that didn't work and indeed got me into a lot of trouble. At some point I either needed to realize that I was wrong and should learn things or pack up and return home. However, I did learn and have realized many important things.
Let's zoom into what happened today. I have been asking my coteacher (Mr. J) for a reference letter. I got one from my last school when I left and so figured it wouldn't be a problem here. I even showed him the one I have from last year. This was about a month ago and so recently I reminded him about it.
This morning I got a text message on my computer from him stating he was sorry but the Principal made the decision not to give it to me. I became alarmed and worried. But not because I couldn't get this document mostly because the Principal was refusing to do it. I inquired and pushed for an explanation. This was before classes started and we couldn't talk much about it.
Then came the after lunch time. I inquired about it again with the youngest coteacher (Miss. K or as I have called her in the past the "princess"). What started as a civil conversation ended up into one about the past. She was being polite and things weren't getting harsh. But I was trying to defend my situation, that no one gave me the chance to listen to my perspective when things were bad. Then Mrs. W (the middle coteacher, older) came in.
She basically vented everything she ever wanted to say to me since the beginning. I realized through it that I had to just let her talk, which she did. Again I tried to point out to her that I was never really given a chance to explain myself. That I would have liked to talk to them but I realized it was hopeless and gave up.
But time was running out and I had to go teach my afterschool class. As I left the office I was in mild tears. I told Mrs. W (now Mr. J and Miss. K were out of the office) that I was deeply sorry for the burden I had caused her. That I always wanted to talk about it and meet eye to eye, but that I was scared and realized it was too late. I went to class.
At that point I felt inside the usual feeling that I get when I am in this situation. That feeling of being trapped and wanting to run away from it all. To run out of the school crying and head home. Of course I didn't do this and actually suppressed it. But there I was trapped in my own cave that I had created seeing the darkness close in around me. (Okay maybe too dramatic)
Did I think I would be able to come out of it in peace? No.
After class I came back to the office and my face showed I was distraught. Mr. J saw this and said "Let's go for a walk." We found a bench near the school that was off the path. He told me that he needed to know that I knew that everywhere in Korea is the same. I told him I knew this and understood. I confided in him about what happened with Mrs. K and that is why I had given up any hope of relationship building. He didn't say much but I warmed things up by saying thank you and that I didn't mind about not getting the letter. We agreed that a school certificate will work just fine.
Then we were back at the office. I sent Miss. K an endearing text-letter apologizing and giving praise to her help in the office. She liked it and I sent her hope that we can move past this.
Sometime after that Mrs.W asked to talk with me. We did so in the office and over a cup of tea. It turned out to be a real heart to heart talk. She expressed to me the things she understood and were sorry for as did I. Our talk was significant because it got me out of my cave. It helped me see the light, sort of speak, and understand in a true way her side of the story. In the end, I feel closer to her and that our bad past has been amended.
For the longest time I have felt that I had to always defend the "foreigner" fort and stand up for what I thought was right treatment. Sure there are some cases of actual mistreatment, but I think I let it go to my head.
"There is a way out." It begins with opening up and and letting go. I have found my way out of the cave I built around myself and it feels good. I can't guarantee that at my next job things will go peachy but I know now really where to start and what to do.
For those not in Korea yet and are considering coming over bear this in mind. Not everyone has this experience like I had. You will find yourself facing cultural and personal differences when working with Korean people but what happens next depends on your personality.
Also bear in mind that we would like to think that the technical aspects of the job matter most. I am talking about how we teach class, the materials we make and lesson planning. Sure you can do a great job at this but if you suck in the interpersonal department then you will end up with nothing to lean on. All I am saying is that to be considered as a "good" teacher here in Korea you have to put more emphasis on positive relationships than you do on the actual teaching part of the job. I am only speaking to public schools and likely private schools. As for University teaching I think they lean more towards your teaching capabilities.
But let me tell you it will benefit your life and your time here in Korea if you heed my message. Having a good relationship with your coteacher(s) means that they will help you and be almost like family. Even though I haven't exactly established this with any of my coteachers I can see it in other people and definitely can feel it. That is why, although I initially thought this was invasive, I see it now as an asset of Korean culture.
This was a long post and whoever read the whole thing, thank you! For those who read enough to get the point.... thank you! If anything in here was of actual help to anyone else...well...good luck! If my grammar sucked again...sorry!
The madness is over.