Leaving South Korea:Last Weeks At Chung Dahm

Seven is the number of the month in which I was born, and the number of the month in which we find ourselves in now, this 2010th year AD. But the significance of this number today has to do with the number of weeks left in my contract with Chung Dahm; the number of weeks in which I still have gainful employment.

It means only seven more weeks of Closed Circuit Television and working 4:00 to 10:00 PM with only one or two five-minute breaks and never sitting more than a couple of minutes at at time. Only seven more weeks of lesson planning and grading online essays with their strange and arbitrary set of parameters, e.g. you must make exactly seven comments, each comment must contain 250-350 characters,  include the student’s name, an example and make reference to the in-class lesson.

It also means only seven more weeks to spend time with some pretty amazing students who bring me a great deal of joy and laughter and who have exponentially increased my enjoyment of Korea and the quality of my life’s experiences. Only seven more weeks to interact with these kids and appreciate their unique perspective of the English language and American culture. Only seven more weeks to spend time with awesome co-workers turned friends and fellow writers whose insight and experience will no doubt continue to inspire me long into the future, wherever we may find ourselves.

As in past experiences, as I prepare to move from one geographical area and way of life to another, my experience of and interactions with the objects and inhabitants of this world are more vivid than in months previous. The lines that frame objects and people are sharper, their colors, if not always brighter or identifiable, more noticeable. Even the moisture that sticks to my skin as I move through the humid Korean air is weightier.

I began my countdown the first week I started working for CDI, when I was culture shocked and slightly traumatized by a week-long training session that was quite different from my expectations, despite my efforts to suspend those expectations. I kept counting down through the first awkward, stressful weeks of my first term teaching children who I could barely understand and who arguably didn’t understand me – wondering all the while how anything could be taught or learned in an environment in which the language barrier was so pronounced. And when homesickness pierced my liver and shot through my heart after every American holiday, I counted even more carefully the weeks left in my contract.

Now the acute awareness over every awkward mistake of my early weeks in Korea has begun to give way to acute awareness of momentary perfections, often manifesting in the beautiful faces of my students. My relief over surviving another day now daily metamorphoses into confidence that comes from  perseverance.  I am not longer timid to tell a student he or she is not doing well nor do I refrain from taking their cell phones. I no longer fret over Korean people staring at me on the subway, or the lack of friendly acknowledgments from fellow foreigners on the street. Today, I move through the streets with confidence and teach like an expert. Today, I know these days, at least for me, are coming to an end.

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