Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Low Point, An Affirmation, Answering the Call

Today I hit the lowest point of my time here in Korea.

There are a lot of good things about Korea, and there are also bad things. I like to lean to the positive side and see most things about Korea as good, and not complain too much about what bothers me here. But today, at the lowest point in all my experiences here, I had never felt so negative about Korea as I did.

I was standing in a packed crowd watching dancers perform onstage as part of the Busan International Dance Festival. There was nowhere to move where I stood, and more people kept coming to watch the show. An adjumma came up from behind me and wanted to stand in the exact spot where I was already standing, so she decided she was going to shove me out of the way. I stood my ground and told her in Korean that I was already there first and that there was nowhere else I would move. She kept trying to shove me aside but I wasn't having it, and I wasn't going to budge from the spot where I was standing long before she came along. I explained again, still in polite Korean, that I wouldn't move since it was physically impossible. She apparently became frustrated that I wasn't going to be able to magically remove myself from that spot, and raised her hand to slap me across the head. I put up my hand to block hers and said (in some not-so-polite Korean) that if she slapped me I would hit her back. (My mom was the only one who could smack me across the head and that was if I had sassed her, which did not happen often.) Cue an angry staring contest and more not-so-polite Korean on both sides. Finally she broke her glare and stopped trying to steal my spot, instead pushing the person to my left and causing her to stumble out of the way. The adjumma continued up through the crowd, shoving people out of the way. She even pushed a child off the edge of the platform he was standing on into the sand below, causing him to cry in fright.

Later on in the performance, she came walking back the other way and stopped to glare at me. I glared back, communicating with my eyes what would happen should she try something again. She kept moving on and then left completely.

Usually, I'm pretty respectful of the cultural differences here, and I understand that there is a system of how things work in Korea. I won't say that I agree with the system but I know that it's there as a part of Korean history and tradition.

But today the system went a little too far for me, and I almost snapped back on it in the worst way. I would never want to resort to violence as a means of accomplishing anything, so I was initially surprised at my reaction.

Thinking about it more after the fact, I know that it's a sign. It's another sign that it is time for me to go home to NC. I've been in Korea long enough now that the sheen of everything I love about this country is beginning to dull. I don't want to become one of those people that hates everything about Korea and complains about it incessantly, so the best thing is to let this chapter of my life come to an end. Five years in Korea is a long time, and more than most English teachers spend here. The exceptions are those who marry Koreans, start businesses here, or see teaching ESL in Korea as a career. I fall into none of those categories.

I know now that I want to be a teacher; I've figured that out. I have even learned that I no longer want to teach high school, which was my plan when I went into college studying English. Now that I've had the opportunity to experience high school teaching, in addition to my other experiences, elementary school is where I want to be teaching. I know that I have so much more to learn about how to teach, and I need to go learn that. But I can't really do that in Korea. If I want to be a licensed teacher in NC, I need to go home and get my license. Whether it is through grad school or lateral entry, I need to be home to do that.

It's not just a need to be home to study and work as a teacher, but also a want to be home. I worry about my grandparents getting older, as I have witnessed many coworkers dealing with the death of their grandparents and other family while living here. I have missed far too many weddings and birthdays and babies, and Facebook is no longer keeping me as in the loop as I would like it to. Friends become harder to connect with the more time we spend apart, merely because their lives seem to move 2x as fast as they used to. I want to be there more for my friends. I want to be there more for my family. I saw that the last time I visited in March. The older I've become, the more of a bond I have formed with my mom. We went through a long period of time when we weren't very close when I was in college, but now we are on a better track.

I have a sneaking suspicion my brother might be getting married in the next year or two, and I want to be there for that. There's a long list of friends and places to visit in the US that I intend to check off, one by one. But to do that, I need (and want) to be home.

North Carolina, with your mountains and beaches, your blue skies so bright it hurts to look at them, your summer thunderstorms and mild winters, country music, pork BBQ, sweet tea, and biscuits--you're calling me home, louder than ever. I heard it when I was home in March. I read it between the lines of every message and email from family and friends. I hear it in the twang of a Southern accent over the phone. I hear it, I feel it, I see it calling. And I'm answering your call.


  1. Five years is a long time to be here. Sounds like a lifetime to me and I've only been here two years! With the recent uproar about the MBC video in the foreign community I'd hate to be someone who gives the racists in this country more ammo. But, being a Jersey City boy who grew up with gunshots and sirens as my lullabies, I'm not going to take crap from anyone cultural differences be damned. God help the idiot who sets me off since I carry my trusty cane with me frequently. Good on you for standing up for yourself and not acquiescing to some old bitch. I've been gone from my hometown for three years and numerous weddings, births, engagements and graduations have passed me by. I've always felt like an outsider even among friends, but living here really makes me feel like a man out of time. Good luck with everything Heather. Wish we had gotten to know each other better before you leave this year.

  2. Sometimes you can't helped but be pissed of to some respectful people no matter what race they come from. Just kill them with your niceness but defend yourself and stood your ground too.


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