February: the final month

In a lot of ways, or maybe all the ways, I’ll never have a job quite as suited to me as this again. Comparatively speaking, I have little responsibility. I don’t speak Korean, so I’m not expected to answer the phone, speak with parents, or understand the inner workings of the school at all; honestly, I turn up, sort out my schedule, plan lessons, and teach. After lessons have ended I sit at the computer and listen to various podcasts on my phone while I plan the next day. One week out of every two I clean the classroom. On Fridays I take a student for after-school class.

I’m left to my own devices. Even though I follow lesson guidelines, I’m able to deviate as little or as much as I’d like, considering the books get read and the workbooks completed. The other teachers are nice; the principal and director have been nothing but good to me; the students, for the most part, are good kids.

It wasn’t always this simple. When I first got here, I had no idea what I was doing. There were lots of kids in my after-school class, and I didn’t know what was expected of me in, well, any class. I didn’t know how to plan lessons, or how to get the most out of my students. Even now I know there’s more that I could be doing, and I’m never satisfied with myself, but on the other hand I’ve gotten this far with little complaint – the parents have praised me – so I’ve developed the attitude of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ But maybe I’m better at this than I think. Perhaps it’s my own expectations I’m failing to meet. In other people’s eyes, maybe I’m doing okay.

After hearing horror stories from other hagwons, I really do have a blessed situation. I realise this. I remind myself of this. After eleven months, I’m okay, I’m adjusted, I feel comfortable, and if my circumstances were different, maybe I would stay. I can’t, though. I’ve reached the end of my time here. I know that more than I know the rest, so even if I’m faltering in my decisiveness, I have this resolution, or fixation, with all that England offers: a lifestyle unlike the one I lead here. The grass is always greener …

This is not to say I won’t leave Korea with my heart bleeding. Its bloody remnants will be over this country. My way of thinking, of living, has forever been altered by the time I’ve spent here. In a lot of ways, I even prefer Korea: less crime, less thugs, better transport, nicer people, cheaper food, seasonal weather, an expat community. When I put it like that, you’re probably thinking why I’d ever want to leave.

There’s a feeling I can’t shake, though. Maybe it’s homesickness. Maybe it’s a different kind of wanderlust; a desire to embark upon the next stage of life. Whatever the case, I’m ready. The streets, though, will be paved with my tears. On the other side of this, back home, I’ll be inconsolable, at least for a while. Real life has been on hold here, which might be why I’ve fallen into it so readily, so heavily, but that’s also the reason why I know I have to leave: it was always temporary.

There are things about Korea I don’t like, namely the lack of variety and health awareness with foods. The smog has been making my chest hurt for close to a year. My apartment is small and constantly needs cleaning; I can’t decorate, or be materialistic. Sometimes I miss the ease of communication, of knowing how things work and how I can go about getting things done. That whole thing is a double-edged sword, though, because I simultaneously love the safety the not-understanding provides me: I don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed (ironically enough) by my lack of knowledge when dealing with cashiers, waiters, etc. In fact, I’m able to go about my everyday life feeling less pressure. If I make a fool of myself here, so what? I’m a waygookin. It’s probably expected. Perhaps strangely, not speaking the language gives me a freedom I’ve never known.

But this is where I’m at right now. I’m excited to go home. I’m really, truly ready for a veggie burger and a paella. Maybe I’ll be vegetarian for a while – my cholesterol levels are probably through the roof, and I’m more than likely on the brink of diabetes.

At the very least, I know England is where my real life is, so once I’m home, I can plan my future accordingly.

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