Yesterday afternoon during one of my free periods I was sitting in the office working on some lessons for today and going over the grade one speaking test grades. It was a very hot day so we had the windows open to let in any breeze that might be passing through and everyone’s little desk fans were humming away. I got up at one point to go downstairs and use the restroom. But as I was walking back up, passing the windows where outside the courtyard sat in warm colorful silence, creaking on the floorboards that always announce any visitors to the office, I was overcome with a very particular feeling.
And I’m calling that feeling “an overwhelming fondness.”
I sat down and went back to my work, while the ladies who sit close to the windows chatted in Korean about different students. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but their voices and their laughs, are familiar to me.
I feel an overwhelming fondness for this place. It has only been 4 months, but in just 4 months I have given my heart to the creaky floorboards, to the kids who giggle when they say bow and say hello, and to my co-teachers who faithfully march into battle with me for even the toughest classes.
Often I find my self in the middle of a lesson and I am suddenly struck by just how unbelievable my present situation is. When I think of all the things, all the variables, the work, and the chance, that went into me standing here in front of these kids, it almost doesn’t seem real. For my whole life this place has existed, and for part of my life these kids have grown up and started to become the adults they will someday be. All the while I was in America, completely unaware that they existed. Completely unaware that one day I would love them more than I could ever imagine loving middle schoolers who don’t speak the same language as me.
I know that in 4 months I have given, and for the rest of my time here I will continue give, so much of myself to this place that leaving will be heartbreaking. Once it’s over, it’s over. But I will try leave as much of myself at this school as I can. And hope that when I leave a little bit of it continues on in the students who will remember me. Or remember how I made them feel.
But I can stay here as long as I like and as long as this school wants to keep me around. The time to say goodbye is still very far off. For now, there are still names to learn, difficult classes to win over, and kids to shower with a different type of kindness and love than they are used to.
And I get paid to do that.
My life here is not easy.
I get looks filled with something that is not welcoming from people of a generation who knew foreigners as the people who hurt their friends, and wives, and country. But still I will continue to love on their grandchildren and try to show them a bigger world where people are different and why that is such a good thing.
I am judged on the basis of my appearance but still I will try everyday to tell my kids that they are beautiful, and more importantly they are kind and they are smart.
Many people see no value in the language that my heart and mind speak. They think that English is a chore forced upon them by society, not a tool with which you can expand your mind and understand the world better. But I will keep trying to show them a different perspective. I want to show them that the whole world is out there and that this beautiful, ever evolving language, will let you connect with it.
I feel an overwhelming fondness for this country, despite any other feelings it may have towards me at times. I have been shown immense love that I feel like I don’t deserve from kids who think I am a much better person than I really am.
I feel an overwhelming fondness for the instant coffee in the office, for the sticky notes littering my desk with hastily scribbled class notes, for the kids who fall asleep in class and for the kids who come find me in my office for a chat. For everything, the good and the bad.
I don’t always feel like this. In fact it’s probably because last weekend was one of the lowest ones I’ve had while in Korea. But how lucky am I that coming back to work on Monday actually helps me to feel better about myself. I realize how rare and special that is.
I know that I am not here by chance. I know that I was brought here, whether it was for me or for them remains to be seen. I hope it’s both.
My bad boys were still bad today, but I have speaking test with my cutest little girls next period and an open evening to find some good food and company. I’m having a pretty darn good day, and I hope you are too. Thanks for reading!