strange aloneish thoughts in crowded places

Prescript (as in Postscript, but before not after): Please note that if you want to read about the title of today’s post, you need to scroll down. A lot. I kind of rambled. Sorry.

Today I signed a piece of paper (several pieces, actually).

Those pieces of paper state that I will remain in Korea as an ESL teacher (working with EPIK) for another year.

Ultimately I knew I would regret staying here at least 1% less than going home this spring. So, I’m staying. The “adventures in Korea” chapter of my life isn’t quite finished yet.

Of course, my decision wouldn’t be complete without a good old Korean surprise. Just 1 week prior to contract signing day, I received the news that I will teach exclusively at my small school next year.

You know that tight, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get unexpected bad news?

This means that I won’t be able to teach my lovely, bright, hilarious, sweet students from my main school next year.

Hence the “change is hard” post from a few days ago.

This week I went through a very mild version of the 5 stages of grief.

  1. Denial- First, a mix of emotions rising up in my chest without words, then “No way, this can’t be right.” I felt dazed, like someone hit me in the head.
  2. Anger- “Why would they change it? Why didn’t they tell me earlier? Why don’t I have a say in this?” (sidenote: it’s in my contract. I’d already agreed that I don’t have a choice about where I work before I even arrived in Korea. this was the crazy desperate voice in my head.)
  3. Bargaining- Emails and messages sent to the Office of Education, my co-teachers, and anyone else who would listen, asking if there was some way to change it (there isn’t).
  4. Depression- Considered backing out of my contract for a minute. Consumed with the sadness of not seeing my main school kids next year, of being replaced by some other random person, of them forgetting me within the year.
  5. Acceptance- Thankfully I managed to pass through to this stage within a week, since that’s all the time I had before contract signing day.

I’m exaggerating a bit to make light of my situation. Obviously this is a first world problem and I know it’s time to suck it up and move forward, commit myself to teaching at the school that will now be my only focus.

The most painful thing is thinking of the 1st graders. Although I stopped teaching them in the middle of this semester (so that I could teach 2nd grade), I never said goodbye to them properly. I (foolishly) assumed that I would be back next year to be their 2nd grade teacher.

The fact that they said to me, “Come back next year!” and I said, “Yes, I will!” kills me. It also kills me that a new NET will be teaching “my” kids. Sigh.

Anyway, let’s get to the actual title of this post.

So I went to the Office of Education Center of sorts for the contract renewal meeting. I found myself sitting in a small auditorium in a sea of foreigners (about 40 of them). I felt extremely strange and uncomfortable.

Korea, you are not doing anything for my casual socializing ability.

Not that I had a great deal to begin with. (See: introversion)

I mean, walking around the streets, and even going to work each day, I never ever ever have to make small talk. I never even feel pressure to say a single word most days. In fact I think I’ve actually had days where, outside of teaching class, I haven’t said a single word to anybody except hello and goodbye. It’s not antisocial, it’s just not necessary – and sometimes it’s too much work. I’ve written before about the comfortable bubble of protection that the language barrier creates for an introvert.

So here I am, watching people find their cliques and chatter loudly (why are Westerners so LOUD?! I suppose it’s just because I can’t easily tune out their English conversations like I can with Korean).

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Me, essentially. P.S. if you love Mr. Darcy raise your hand. *raises hand*

Sitting alone with my aloneish thoughts.

Thoughts like…

– Other than the slightly humiliating stigma of being a loner when everyone else seems to have a friend group, I prefer this. It feels superficial and daunting to chat with people who clearly already have a clique. Do you know how hard it is to break into people’s cliques?? To me, it’s just not worth the effort, especially considering that in my daily life I have little opportunity or desire to meet up with them at clubs and bars. (Sidenote: I understand that other people may disagree. Kudos. I envy your mad socializing skills.)

– Why is the heat blasting. It’s not even that cold outside.

– Oh, look, there’s that guy. He was at my orientation. Oh and apparently he knows that girl from that one training seminar. Wow, guess they’re a part of that one clique. Who knew all these people would be renewing.

(after frantically scrabbling my fingers around in the bottom of my huge laptop bag) YES! I do have a pen! I’m not that person who forgot to bring a pen to an important contract-signing meeting! I AM THE BEST!

– Dang it’s hot.

– Should I avoid making eye contact with this person whose name I know because she was in my orientation group but she probably doesn’t know who I am anymore? Oh shoot we made eye contact. What do I do? Awkward tight-lipped smile, yes. That’s the way to go.

– I am SO glad I don’t have to meet an entirely new set of CTs and adjust to a new school. However, it’s amusing as names are called and foreign teachers and Korean teachers have to find each other and have that anxious, awkward first meeting.

– Oh thank goodness my amazing CT finally got here. I AM NO LONGER ALONE.

At this point she and I had to sit in on a quick meeting specifically for the Korean teachers about paperwork, and then we skedaddled out of there as fast as possible. And she drove me home because she’s awesome like that.

Hopefully this doesn’t make me sound like a social outcast. Or a sociopath. I promise I’m not. Well, I’m not a sociopath anyway.

Honestly, the expat scene in Korea is just not my style. Making friends with people who will only be here for 6 months or a year seems like a whole lot of effort.

Also, there are well-established cliques. I’ve already stated my feelings towards cliques. It’s great when you’re in one, but when you’re not it’s just kind of vaguely annoying to be around them.

Also, most (not all) foreigners like to party hard in the downtown areas. I like to watch YouTube in my pajamas.

So those are my excuses. Poke holes in them if you want. I’m content with my life here, and I’m certainly not unfriendly or unkind to the foreigners I do interact with.

Just do your own thing, people. Socialize and be outgoing if you want, or don’t. Dance to the beat of your own drum. Don’t worry too much about what other people think of you. (Don’t do mean and stupid stuff either though.)

If you need me I’ll probably be at home, wearing my pajamas and a fleece blanket, watching my Christmas tree lights dance on my ceiling and eating ice cream.

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Both GIFs in this post are from that simultaneously wonderful and horrible place, tumblr.

 

 

EPIK Orientation: A Collection of Thoughts

This post was written post orientation experience, so rather than a detailed account of each day, I’ve gathered some of my thoughts about the experience as a whole to share here.

  • Essentially, EPIK orientation is like your entire college experience crammed into 9 days: first-day “who will I sit with in the cafeteria I don’t want to be a social outcast” anxiety; cliques; drinking; days full of lectures, going from class to class and taking notes; stress; group work and a presentation (in the form of a lesson demo) – and ultimately, you come out on the other side with good friends, a graduation ceremony, and a sense of accomplishment and passion for the career you’re about to enter.
  • The caliber of people you meet at EPIK orientation is pretty high. These are people willing to uproot their daily lives and come to a new country to live and work, and that takes a certain kind of person. They are adventurous, courageous, intelligent, outgoing, and high energy. (I don’t necessarily put myself in all of those categories, and I’m not saying all of those traits are requirements; it’s just a general trend I noticed among the EPIKers I met.)
  • I can’t think of another time I’ll have the opportunity to meet such a wide variety of people from so many different English-speaking countries – from Canada and the UK to South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. It’s a fascinating experience.
  • For the duration of orientation, I rarely felt like I was actually IN Korea. 95% of the time we were on campus and enclosed in a foreigner bubble. Even venturing out into the city of Daejeon didn’t feel too different because we were with English-speaking friends. On the final day, that safety net drops from underneath you as you meet your co-teacher(s) and are left in their hands to start your new life in whichever city you’ve been placed in.

Overall, I’m grateful for the EPIK orientation experience. The lecturers (all of them current or former EPIK/ESL teachers themselves) were absolutely fantastic. Although I had doubts at first, it really did help me feel better prepared to enter those middle school classrooms come Monday. And in spite of my introversion, I managed to make some awesome friends as well.

And now, life in Korea begins for real. 시작!