Submitted by Meghan Thomas 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.
Two weeks from today I will be on a plane on my way back to the States. I must admit, there were times during this year when I thought that day couldn’t come fast enough. There were times when I was homesick, and lonely, and struggling to understand this totally upside-down culture. And all I wanted was to go back to my momma’s house, curl under the covers, and be a kid again. Growing up is hard. Living abroad is hard.
But in the end, going to live alone in another country was the best possible thing I could have done in my life at this point. I was exhausted from my hectic lifestyle at school. I was working two jobs and taking over twice the “full-time” student course load. I was also starting to define myself through my relationships with other people, depending too much on others for my happiness instead of being my own happiness.
The struggles and triumphs I’ve experienced here during this year have caused me to grow and to reflect on myself and my impact on the world around me. I have truly experienced something powerful and great, and I wish everyone could do something so healing for themselves.
Recently, a friend of mine here asked me, “What will you miss the most?” My definite, resounding, don’t-have-to-think-about-it-for-even-a-second answer is: the kids. My students have been my rock (and my rockstars) during this year. When I came to school tired, lonely, frustrated, homesick; my students were there to make me smile.
Through the days when they were testing my very last nerve, on the rare occasion I wanted to chuck a few of them out the window (2-3b, you know who you are -_-), to the times when they gave me random gifts, and made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants (even though most of those times it was completely inappropriate and I should have been stern!), the kids have made this year truly incredible.
The energy and excitement shown by my kids made every single day of waking up at 6am worth it. For two months, I came to school from 8am until 9pm every Tuesday because students requested a debate class. It was exhausting, and sometimes the other teachers forgot about me, so I didn’t get dinner, but it was worth it. On that last class, while happily munching snacks and Capri-Suns that I brought for them, my students hashed out a well-informed, coherent, and thoughtful debate on the death penalty.
I just finished speaking tests. My pride filled my chest to bursting with each student that came forward to give a speech. After 6 months of grammar and endless vocabulary drills, I gave them free reign for the speaking test. “Talk for 3 minutes” was all I asked. The students took it and ran with it. They put together some of the funniest skits, most intelligent arguments, and clever how-to lessons I’ve ever seen from this age group. From one group writing their entire skit about “How to make Miss Meghan fall in love with me,” to a brilliant trick for cheating (I’ll show you sometime, seriously… evil, but brilliant), to arguments about saving the environment and loving yourself for who you are, I was continually impressed.
Every single time I pass a student in the hallway, I get a bow or a wave and an enthusiastic, “Hi, teacher!” There is no possible way to feel lonely when you have 300 students who genuinely care about you and what you have to say to them.
Of course, every day wasn’t perfect. I distinctly recall one day where over half of one of my classes slept through the entire lesson. I mean, probably 18 of the 30 in that class. But then I remember that these kids have a tougher schedule and more pressure on them than the most studious American kid I knew, me. I worked my butt off in high school, and I put in nowhere near as much study time as these kids. They wake up at 6am and have class and study time until midnight every single day but Sunday.
The best part is: they aren’t bitter. They sigh and complain sometimes, but then they suck it up and do it. They are, without a doubt, the most humble, kind group of children I’ve ever met.
I cried in school on Friday. After class, two of my students ran out to catch me in the hallway. They had bought me a gift from their field trip the day before. It is a beautiful, hand-painted fan. During one of the few days they get to be outside of school, and after traveling five hours to get there and five hours back, they had thought to bring me something. I teared up as we stood there hugging in the hallway.
These kids did exactly what I was hoping to accomplish this year. I had been so disenfranchised with teaching. I was frustrated, I was tired, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. In fact, I had quit. But I gave teaching abroad a shot, hoping to get some energy back, and to remember why I love teaching in the first place. My students gave this to me. And so, I will be forever grateful, and I will never forget the beautiful children who helped me remember myself and also to become an adult.
And as I sit here writing this, I am tearing up again. I can’t wait to see my family again. My baby sisters are growing big while I’m away. One of them even got her first apartment this weekend. My family and friends are changing, moving on, and I’m not there. But… leaving these kids behind is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I’m an adult. And as I explained to some of the kids last week, life just isn’t simple.
So, to the students of Poongsan High School: thank you, and I love you.
“The Beginning of the End” was originally posted on Meghan Thomas’ blog “Small Town Girl” on July 2, 2012.