Over the last few years I’ve come to realize how important this is for anyone’s mental and emotional well-being. A sense of belonging to something – a group of people, a family, a workplace, a community.

Two years ago, my sense of belonging was deeply rooted in my family and my large “taekwondo family” of students and coworkers.

Last year, my sense of belonging was simply established in “Korea” as a whole. I was in the country, everything was new, everyone was kind, and I felt I belonged in this experience more than in a community.

This year, I think my struggle to stay positive has been a result of losing that sense of belonging. I felt unattached from everything as I had to drop my former main school (and hence leave hundreds of lovely students), some very dear coworkers left, and my sister left Korea at the beginning of the year.

But I’ve honestly thrown myself into working at my current school wholeheartedly, and slowly,  painstakingly, it’s started to pay off in little ways. As my relationship with my students becomes stronger and more “real,” a new sense of belonging begins to build up.

When my kids still yell “HELLO MADDY TEACHER!” (or “Hello Miss [Surname]!”, ever since I taught them that that’s what American students would call me), I feel a sense of belonging.

When a couple of the low level 2nd grade boys reach out their hands to shake my hand every single day as I pass them in the hallway at lunch time, I feel a sense of belonging.

When I see two 3rd grade boys at the big intersection that we have to cross to get to school each morning and they give me a sheepish grin and wave, I feel a sense of belonging.

When a small bunch of 1st grade girls stop by my office at the end of the day just to say “Hello” and maybe share some candy with me, I feel a sense of belonging.

When more and more and more students feel comfortable asking me their questions and pushing through the language barrier to communicate instead of relying on using Korean with one of my co-teachers, I feel a sense of belonging.

When I go to my co-teacher’s open class and start walking around with the other teachers to see what the students are working on, and each table that I approach is full of kids who light up and whisper, “Oh, hello Teacher!” and we exchange a secret grin and wave in spite of all the observers and the video camera – I feel a sense of belonging.

P.S. The aforementioned open class was one of those major area-wide classes, so there were quite a few teachers visiting from other schools to observe the class. Two of my former co-teachers showed up, which was nice.

P.P.S. The open class involved students reading and discussing the English newspapers that they had created in a previous class. I went to check one group’s paper (which had been written by another group) and they urgently whispered, “Teacher, look!”

One of the articles, nicely typed and formatted and complete with a photo, was titled “School Computers Sh**” and included the sentence “What the f*** these computers?” (censoring entirely mine) The group that was discussing that newspaper read the latter sentence to me in shocked voices and I hastily quieted them down and discouraged the reading of that particular article out loud.

Figured I’d do my co-teacher a favor by not allowing her students to yell English profanities during her open class.

To be fair, though, the school computers are pretty bad.


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