The verdict is in
One day I’m offering complimentary house-purified water to restaurant patrons, and the next, I’m called qualified to teach young humans how to speak English. This is my life? I still only half believe it.
The first few days go like this. My plane lands at 4:00 pm in Seoul after a fourteen hour flight. I meet Vanessa at baggage claim and learn she flew in from Iowa to also teach English. A connection! We talk until we find our bags. We met ten minutes ago, yet we feel comfortable enough to hug each other goodbye. A man approaches me while pointing to my photo on his phone. He is the CEO of the school where I’ll be teaching, and also the husband of the school’s director. More than once, he suggests that I rest my eyes. I come to realize that it isn’t rude if I do, and that it may be of some relief to him, too. My roommates and fellow teachers are waiting for me. They help me with my luggage, show me around the apartment, and soon we go for dinner. I’ve been in Seoul for less than two hours, and I’m already eating Korean barbecue. This is looking good.
I wake up the first morning so fucking early. I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt so unprepared. Maybe the first day of seventh grade? The day I flew on a one-way ticket to New York? My first and horribly awkward kiss to someone much more experienced than I was, to which he so charmingly said, “let’s try that again”? Or maybe it was only a few nights ago over dinner with great friends, I’m talking some truly incredible people here, when it hit me that I would be leaving them and all that was comfortable lately the very next morning?
I spend the next few hours writing emails, looking at the ceiling, clicking through photos. As hard as I work to ease my nerves, my nerves do not subside. I walk to buy coffee from locals wearing berets. Caffeine will get me through the next few minutes, I tell myself. I meet the Korean teachers, all women, and the director. We call her Wanjangnim. My hands are sweaty as I approach the door of my new classroom. The students are already here, full of energy and as small and sweet as I imagined. After an hour, I discover that my first instinct is to yell at a volume that scares even me when one of them misbehaves. (At least I manage not to swear?) The day is a blur, and by the end of it, I’m convinced I’ve just run a marathon. I find myself left with the question of, “Do I even like kids? Any chance they might learn to like me? What if I’m actually not cut out for this? Lord, I hope I was nice to my kindergarten teacher and every single teacher thereafter.”
The second day, and I’m awake early. Not so fucking early, but early still. I spend an hour writing emails, looking at the ceiling, clicking through photos. Before I know it, I need to rush out the door. When I walk into the classroom, Wanjangnim tells me that one of my students bought me an iced coffee. With her own money. It takes a bit for me to process this. I’m sorry, what? She noticed what I was drinking yesterday and thought to buy it for me? With her own money? And on a day that I didn’t have time to stop for it myself, no less? But Wanjangnim, she’s only six years old! I love a gift as much as the next person, but it’s an act of thoughtfulness, an observation, the simplicity of showing some effort that really get me. After the first week, some tears, and some words of advice from my super wise aunt and some super helpful friends and roommates, the verdict is in. I like kids. And not any more or less because these kids can sing Superstition perfectly, although this discovery was quite the unexpected treat. I think it’ll be a year full of similarly first-rate surprises. That’ll be something worth working for, for sure.