Written by Anthony Cho ETA’11-12
This entry originally appeared on a Fulbright grantee’s personal blog and is published with permission here. The views expressed in these entries are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fulbright Korea or the Korea Fulbright Infusion staff.
Dear Gochang Buk High School,
Yesterday was a celebration of sorts. I met most of the Fulbright teachers from all over the country for a last hurrah. Everybody was excited to see all our friends and share in a wonderful meal together. We celebrated our year and promised to stay in touch. After this official luncheon, we took to the night to fill our souls with more good company. As my friends toasted and celebrated around me, I couldn’t bring myself to happiness as something very powerful lingered and tugged at my heart. Your shadow is powerful indeed.
Prior to my arrival, I heard that you are a lower level school with a bunch rowdy, unruly students. I was lectured about how different you are now compared to the past, when students were eager pupils doting on the teacher’s lesson as if the meaning of life was laid out bare in neat 50 minute capsules. According to them now, you are home to students who lack discipline, forgot respect, and lost their will to learn. As much as I tried to dismiss these criticisms, they lingered in the back of my mind as I stepped foot onto your campus.
For my first day, I wore my best suit and favorite tie. I wanted to look professional enough to earn your respect. I paid my dues in a teacher’s meeting acknowledging my arrival and went ahead, intending to seal Korean from my lips for the duration of my life. In this instant, you were puzzled. How can this Korean be our native speaking English teacher? My words quieted these concerns only to open up a different set of objections. From this moment, the Anthony Cho show began.
You were not always entertained. No doubt it took much trial and error to learn how to effectively engage your demands: students and teachers. For this I apologize for all my mistakes. We do not always know what kind of effect we have. On the other hand, I thank you for bringing to me so many opportunities to make a positive difference. The class was more than just a tool for changing test scores, it was made to change lives. English was more than just test preparation, it was a chance to give a voice, a dream, a friendship, and so much more (at least I hope!).
In this moment, I close my eyes and…
I see my trouble student holding her little brother’s hand walking him to school
— In this moment I see the kindness of your students. There are no bad kids. There are students I do not fully understand. These are students I have not properly motivated or engaged. In this vision, you show me that it is I who should adapt to others.
Don’t judge and dismiss, but rather understand.
I see a student, looking straight down with her knees and hands trembling with fear
— In this moment, I see that fear is the limit that holds us back. I see that courage is the strength to move past what our mind tells us we can’t do. I see the look of a reserved triumph after a student finishes speaking, the same whether the question is “What is the difference between being a leader and a friend?” or “What is your name?”
All accomplishments take courage, be proud of your effort.
I see my smile reflected on the faces of your students
— In this moment, I realize that sometimes life boils down to a simple smile. When all is said and done, what we will remember is not whether we use ‘and’ instead of ‘or’, but rather if we can recall our memories with a smile. The easiest way to spread smiles is to smile yourself.
Though different people see happiness in different ways, all our smiles are the same.
All these invaluable things you have shown and taught me. I am both thankful and sorry. I am thankful to you for inviting me into your family. I am sorry that I couldn’t do more for your family. Did I do enough? What more could I have done to make a difference for at least one more person? These regrets lead to despair, but this despair can be defeated. You have reminded me of my original purpose. In order to make this world a better place, which includes you, I must work. Anything less than dedicating my best is an insult to the experience you have given me. You have given me the proper motivation to move forward. I will never forget this feeling and will use it to inspire me in the future.
I trust that you will take care of your own, as you always have: each class, each student, special. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and ask that you look forward to me, your adopted son. I will make a difference for you, your students, and their futures.
“Finale: A Letter to Gochang Buk High School” was originally published in Anthony Cho’s blog “g2g [Going to Gochang]” on June 23, 2012.