It’s been a few days over 7 months since my plane touched the landing strip at Incheon International, and just as I expected, those 7 months have flown by. All of a sudden, I only have 5 months left on my initial contract and a whole lot of questions about my future that need answering.
This mid-year reflection is actually a month late, as you may have noticed. I’ve been caught up in the flurry of a new school year. Let me take a moment to explain the system that’s in place here. When I arrived last August, I was actually starting school in the middle of the Korean school year. The school year here begins in early March, after a two-month break in January and February. Their summer break is actually their semester break and is much shorter, lasting about a month from the end of July to late August.
For me, I have welcomed the new school year. It has been a chance to start over in many ways. For one, the students were changing foreign teachers mid-year. Before me, there was a Canadian teaching in my position. He had been there 2 years, so the students, especially the 2nd and 3rd graders, were, understandably, used to his teaching. Now, I’m starting with a clean slate with all the new 1st graders, and the 2nd graders have officially seen me more than the Maple Leaf (having known him for only 1 semester). Are you following me here?
However, more importantly, the new school year has been a perfect chance to adjust my teaching style. Listen – all my teacher training and fancy book learnin’ could never have accurately prepared me for the challenges I was to face during my first semester here. They certainly have helped (a LOT, I might add), but the challenges I face here are just so unique at times. The learning curve has been tremendous, and with the start of the new school year, I can take everything I learned during those first 6 months and create a classroom atmosphere more conducive to learning English.
I can understand now why the schools here want foreign teachers to stay as long as possible: it takes a good amount of time for them to step in and adjust to the Korean system. Initial contracts are 1 year, but I feel that it would be in Korea’s best interest to make that 2 years. I figure that the first 6 months are really an investment – an adjustment period for a foreign teacher to learn the job and get used to life in another country. Now that I’ve got some confidence in what I’m doing here, my contract will end in a mere 5 months. For Korea, this isn’t the most efficient process: 6 months of adjusting and 6 months of adjusted. Now, that’s over simplified. Certainly I did some good teaching in the first half of my time here, and I don’t want to pretend I’ve mastered the job now. However, in principal, I think I’m on to something.
Which brings me to my future. One of the most common questions I get asked here (besides blood type) is, “How long are you staying?” It’s an important question, but it’s a strange way to live – walking around with an expiration date. It begins to affect the way you live your life. You start to ask yourself – should I buy/invest in/bother with/become friends with/learn/see/do this if I’m just going to leave in a few months? It makes you feel like you’re putting your REAL life on hold sometimes, and if you’re not careful, you start thinking that you’re running from life and not living it. I constantly have to remind myself that the opposite is true. Still, I’ve heard other foreigners say, “I can’t stay here forever.”
Now, I’m not going to stay here forever or, realistically, very much longer, but if you were to ask me where I’m going to be in, say, December, I could honestly tell you that I have no idea. If I get a teaching job in the US – great. If I don’t – I have a job. Not knowing where you’ll be in a year makes you walk a fine line between scary and exciting,
The last 7 months have been everything I thought they would be, and I would recommend this experience to anyone who thinks they have the right temperament for it. But I’m still in the stages of figuring out what this country and my time here means, and will mean, to me. One thing I do know for sure: whenever I go back home, I want to be able to say I made the most of my time in South Korea. Here’s to the next 5 months.