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Published: September 17th 2007
A Goodbye Message
One of many kinds of goodbye messages I received from my classes...
I know I’m a few months belated, but July and August were quite whirlwinds for me. It was hard to say goodbye to my students, the teachers, my school, my host family, and everyone else who’d meant something to me in Korea.
Let me try to catch you up. June and July flew by. At the end of June, I went to the final Fulbright dinner. It was nice to catch up with everyone and find out what was next for everyone. About 7-8 are staying in Korea for a second year, I think, which I’m impressed by. A lot are going to grad school, and many others are going back into the work force. I, also, am currently working while applying to grad school—I’m working at the Wesley Foundation (the Methodist campus group) at my alma mater, USC. Anyway, we had dinner on the army base in Seoul (which is really interesting because it’s like culture shock in and of itself—it looks like 1950’s America, and it’s like a time/place warp when you come off of the streets of Seoul), and then finally ended up at a soju cocktail bar in Sinchon (the college area near Ewha and Yonsei
universities) that I’d been looking for since my friend Songyi took me there the first time I went to Seoul. It was delicious and everything I remembered about it. The Fulbrighters had split up by then, but it was pretty cool because there was a large group of us at the bar in the end, recounting our Korean days and talking about politics and whatnot.
That weekend also included a trip to the embassy for me. I’d lost my passport in the mail (a really horrible story of miscommunication and misunderstanding starting at the Yeosu post office) and had to get a new one so I could get a visa for Camp Fulbright. It was a pretty unhappy situation, but I ended up getting a brand new passport just fine. And, of course, three weeks later, the old passport arrives to the Fulbright office after all. At least I’m not among the ranks of identity theft... yet (knock on wood).
In other June news, Melinda also visited Colleen and I, and my homestay mom had a birthday! Melinda, Colleen, and I had planned to go island hopping among some of the many islands south of Yeosu, but, unfortunately,
With Mrs. Jo
Our final class together... ;-(
the weather looked bad, so we couldn’t get ferry tickets (and the Vice Principal, who’s from one of the islands, advised against it). So we had a sleepover at a motel in Yeosu, went to the DVD room twice to watch good ole’ American movies, and enjoyed chatting it up quite a bit.
June also included an English contest in Gwangju. I went with my host sister and several other students (including a couple students there to compete in Japanese). I was really proud of my students! It was a very difficult contest, and I’d helped them prepare beforehand. They worked really hard and all did really well!
When July came, it was time to say goodbye to Jungang Girls’ High School and my students. The final classes were really hard, but my students were so sweet to me. I gave them Oreos and/or Choco Pies (like moon pies), listened to music, made them write me letters, gave them a farewell letter, and played them a goodbye video/slideshow I made. I cried a little in a couple classes but decided I had to man up before I had 11 more classes like that. My students were also really
New office furniture
On the day I leave... nice timing, huh?
kind—one played the flute for me, other classes bought me cakes, others sang... It was really a nice treat.
Finally, I had to give a goodbye speech to the teachers, which wasn’t easy. I was kind of put on the spot and had already written them a goodbye letter, so I kept it short and sweet. Lastly, I had to say goodbye on the final day via the school video broadcasting system. Like, whoa—so many goodbyes! During this time, I also had my final day at Sam Hye Won (the orphanage). The kids were really sweet there, too—they each gave me a framed picture of themselves and a letter in simple Korean. Others gave me extra gifts, and a lot gave me hugs. I will miss them so much!
After school was over, I hung around town for a few days, meeting with friends and teachers and my host family. Then, I went off to Chuncheon (where I started) to teach at an English immersion camp called Camp Fulbright. There were 8 teachers (all Fulbrighters that I knew) and 8 Korean counselors, plus three members on the planning team (aka like our bosses), Vinnie (the head of camp),
Will (who headed up the curriculum part), and Henry (activities director). It was kind of a nice transition back into the English-speaking life because I was with friends, we HAD to speak English (the students got in trouble (so to speak) if they didn’t, and it turned out to be pretty nice. It lasted two weeks, and it was quite a busy time. I had a class of 8—6 elementary school students and 2 middle school students. I’d planned for middle and high school students (as I was told I’d probably have), but the numbers ended up being different this year, and there were more elementary school students, so I had to revamp my entire curriculum—or at least its presentation. So that kept me up late at night most days. It was busy, busy, busy—about 6 hours of classroom time during the day, plus activities on top of that, prep time, grading, and all that revamping I mentioned. But, I think the camp was a success overall, and the kids seemed to have a great time and learn a lot.
(By the way, my photos from Camp Fulbright and my final trip with the fam were deleted by a
My homestay mom's (I call her Imo, which means "aunt" in Korean) birthday party at home...
person who shall remain unnamed ;-) I don't like passing blame... hehehe... So, if you wanna see Camp Fulbright pics, go here: to the Camp Fulbright photo site
The end came, and it was hard to say goodbye to the kids, but even harder to say goodbye to my Fulbright friends. But, we all pushed through, wished each other well, and off we went.
By then, it was August. I met up with my host family in Seoul once camp was over. We hung out there for a day, then went back out toward Chuncheon for a day or two, then drove all the way back to Yeosu (about 7 hours), almost non-stop. It was quite a whirlwind of a trip, but it was nice to get that uninterrupted time with my host family.
Once I got back to Yeosu, I finished up all my business—mailing boxes, closing my bank account, and meeting with a few more people one last time. I was really fortunate to have so many loving, caring people there with me. I was truly blessed.
Evening came the day after my arrival in Yeosu—and it was time to go. My host family took me to the airport
My host father (who I call Imoboo, which means "uncle")
in Yeosu. It was hard to say goodbye, but also very surreal. It didn’t feel like I was going for good. It just felt like another trip, like I’d see them in a few days or weeks, or that I’d always be there. So, there weren’t really tears, for any of us. It was just goodbyes, and we-love-you’s, and I’ll-miss-you’s. And then, I was through security and gone.
I flew up to Seoul that night and met Songyi, my friend from USC, one last time. We had coffee together and caught up on all that we’d missed. She’d helped me find a motel near the airport, which I was really grateful for. We stayed out until, well, a little late, but she let me go since I had to be at the airport early in the morning.
One more goodbye, and then I was back in my motel room, re-packing (I was worried about the weight and about smashing some valuable gifts I got). The next morning, I was up bright and early. I took the airport bus to Incheon International Airport. Got through customs with no problem, ate my last Korean food, and was on my way—Seoul
Boyeon at Imo's birthday...
to Tokyo to Chicago to America. The flight was uneventful. I met my parents in Raleigh about 25 hours after I started out. They were actually heading to Boston to help my sister move in there, but at least they got to meet me at the gate (their flight was leaving one hour after my plan arrived). We said our hellos, and then I was back home, and it was as if nothing had changed.
And yet, so much had changed.
It was weird to be eating “American” food—where was the rice cooker? The seaweed? All these things my palate had become used to?
It was weird not to bow, not to hand things with two hands (a respectful custom in Korea when dealing with people older than you), not to speak in Korean, to understand whatever everyone said. It was exhausting, in fact, to have continual socialization in English, to see and understand all the media, all the background noise. And it was strange not to see mountains everywhere, not to be on the sea, not to see the giant Korean apartment buildings everywhere.
But I’m adjusting, I guess. After a couple weeks at home
in NC, I’m back in South Carolina. I can maintain a conversation in English now (at the normal conversational pace). I’m not bewildered by hearing English (though I do sometimes accidentally tune things out). But I do miss speaking in a foreign language, and I do miss what became my home in Korea. But to all things there is both a beginning and an end.
Well, that’s about it for now. I might catch you up more as I continue to readjust. Reverse culture shock is FUN! Sometimes I still crave rice for breakfast.... (To which my friend said, “Well... there’s always Rice Krispy Treats...” But those don’t go so well with seaweed ;-))
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