Wait – I’m Leaving Korea?
No matter how long I have to prepare for goodbyes, I am never ready.
Jared and I, we got ready well in advance. Received our final pay packets, sorted our pension, closed our bank accounts, even got criminal record checks from the Korean police department in case we need them later.
We gave my co-teacher money for our apartment bills, printed out our flight information, shipped boxes home, and re-confirmed our apartment booking in Buenos Aires. I even did the ‘lasts’ – ate my last red bean vanilla fish, two patbingsus, a final dinner of dalkgalbi.
So why do I feel like this whole leaving thing snuck up on me?
It’s as if I was strolling along the shore and got caught in a rip, and now all I can do is let it carry me away. Thursday afternoon, we had to give farewell speeches – in Korean – to the staff.
Mine went something like this:
Two years, still, Korean I cannot do. I’m sorry.
Yeongwol Elementary School was very fun/interesting.
Teachers and students, good.
Thank you very much.
Yeongwol Elementary School, really #1.
But what I really meant was, holy crap, where did the last two years go? I want to take all of the little memories, the ones that didn’t stand out, and hold them in my hand. I want to tell my favorite students that they’re my favorites, to make them know how funny and smart they are and how good they made the past two years for me.
But I couldn’t do that. I said goodbye to seven homeroom classes, to 180 sixth graders, strangely devoid of emotion. That’s because on the surface, I don’t actually believe that it’s all ending.
This place, this school, my co-teachers, the kids – all of it is about to vanish from my life. In a few short hours, I’ll be sitting on a plane and the past two years will be converted to nothing more than memories. The new EPIK teachers will arrive next week, and the kids will ask them where they’re from, if they’re married, how much they weigh. We’ll be in Buenos Aires, for real, all of the planning having come to fruition.
Again, things will change, and Korea will become another buried layer in the onion of my life. Something I talk about in the past tense – “Remember when we were in Korea and that lady touched your butt on the noraebus?” Already, the things I’ve been complaining about are starting to evaporate, leaving behind only the good stuff. I miss the kids. I miss the security of our great job. I miss the lady in the Samsung Mart, who gave us free grape juice and hugs when we said goodbye.
But as much as I miss it already, I don’t want to stay. I’m still processing the fact that right now, I’m at the airport about to hurtle into a new life. As my sister put it, I’m about to experience reverse culture shock in a culture that isn’t even mine to begin with.
Well. Nothing to do but jump, and hope I remember how to swim.
Buenos Aires, see you in 34 hours.