To my family,
Yesterday officially marked the two month point for my stay in South Korea and whilst it has had its ups and downs you can rest assured that I am still thoroughly enjoying myself. Teaching is still proving to be the greatest challenge of my life and I am certainly missing the love and support of my family. Hopefully you’re all doing very well.
At school I seek to connect with every child whom I teach. Some have claimed this is an unachievable goal but I still dispute this. My theory goes that if I can find the individual in each child and remain responsive to their needs I should be able to develop connects with each child, and hopefully, earn their respect and dedication to my subject. As with everything in my teaching, the language barrier proves to be a constant and significant challenge.
Something I do find in my favour is the lack of any significant age difference between my students and I. It seems easier for me to gain the respect and trust of my students, as many are able to look up to be as an older brother. My ethnic differences add and build on this and hopefully, my eccentricities will add further to create a person they are constantly interested in. Every day I am reminded of Caitlyn as my youngest students are the same as her, they are a mere 9 years my junior and my oldest, are only 7. With the advantages this creates there are also some inherent challenges too, notably that of the alpha male and pack leader. Whilst this happens in any classroom with a teacher of any age and sex, there are a few students who seem to have noted my young age as something worth challenging. However, so far I believe by playing firm but fair, these students too are giving up the fight and being to come over to my team.
Every morning I wake to the most sickeningly sweet ‘good morning’ melody played from my phone. Sometimes I think everything in Korea is super cute. It is the crack of dawn, 05:50 am and the (relatively) quiet and very sleepy suburb of Bokjeong is still for the most part fast asleep. Eating as quickly as my sleepy body allows I rush to school, unshowered but shaven, to meet Gyo-gam-seon-saeng-nim, Vice Principal in the golfing nets below the school. One of the many curiosities of my school is the golfing nets and relatively spacious gym located in the school’s basement. The best theory I have so far is that they were commissioned by the vice principal inorder to fuel his love of golf, however their true age is unknown to me. The students are fortunate enough to receive golf lessons as far of their curriculum should they choose, pretty cool really.
Now Gyo-gam-seon-saeng-nim is the exact image of what you would imagine a vice principal to be. Firm and unyielding in his decisions, sailing the ship between rocky waters and ensuring the crew arrives safely. He is an intimidating man with a kind heart. The kind that has grown wise over years of supporting and nurturing scared and insecure youth. Over the last three weeks I’ve developed a deep respect for the man who has now become my golfing instructor. That’s right, I’m now learning to play golf.
The idea was not mine, but Gyo-gam-seon-saeng-nim’s. He had discovered during one of our ‘teaching the teachers’ classes that I had no knowledge of golf and he insisted to take me for a quick lesson. Unable to refuse without insulting the man I went with him, a little excited but mostly terrified. Golf is something I have wanted to learn ever since my first lesson with my father, which I can remember didn’t go too well. We were on the driving range at Morisset golf course, my heart was racing and my body shaking, finally I was getting to know my father, taking part in the sport which makes up a seventh of his life. (Every Saturday, rain hail or shine.) But I was unable to successfully follow anything dad said, I was too excited, too terrified. I suppose it may be true that the worst person to teach a son may be his father. The father sees his son, made in his own image and he desires nothing but the greatest for him, that his is a success, a winner and the greatest. That he is everything the father is and more, and so the father enters the lesson with an impossible dream. Conversely the son enters the equation hoping for nothing but a safe escape from the dangerous situation. Even to a teen, even to an adult, your father is your dream, your father to some extent is like god. Pleasing him will validate your worth, displeasing him will trigger childhood insecurities. Nothing is worth more to a son than to hear words of praise from his father. And so with such high stakes riding on such a simple event, is it any wonder that it ended so terribly? Frustration mounted quickly, these fears aside I was terrified of damaging my father’s beloved clubs. I can’t remember the rest too clearly, but I think we left quickly and without much success on my behalf. We’ve never golfed together since.
So what began as a casual lesson with gyo-gam-seon-saeng-nim has quickly ballooned to daily sessions at 7:00am before school. This has since expanded to include a half of my lunch break each day, although we may have reigned this one back a little (time will tell.) Much of our instruction involves sign language and repositioning me like a manikin, my Korean is terrible and gyo-gam-seon-saeng-nim’s English is not much better. However my lessons seem to be progressing well and other teachers have remarked of his fondness for me.
After a successful swing it’s not uncommon to hear shouts of “GOOOOD SHOT!”, failure to ‘cork’ my wrists properly will result in the most distressed (and loud) “NOOO CORKING!” I have ever head. There have been two occasions now where he has produced candy from his pockets and stuffed one into my mouth following a ‘baek (100) percent shot’. Although the vice-principal is reason enough to continue these lessons I’ve never once forgotten my father during my time in the golf nets. This blog post was originally meant to be an email to my father, but, proving more difficult to write than I realised it has evolved into this. I’ll send dad the link and hopefully he will read this. It’s important that he does, because I’m continuing these golf lessons with the dream of one day soon playing a full game of golf with him. One in Korea, and one at the home ground of Morisset, as soon as I return to Australia.
This may sound childish but I hope you’re all proud of me. I know what you’ll say in response to that but I wanted to write it anyway because I’m missing you. I’m missing Caitlyn’s smile and the grumpy faces she pulls when I tease her, I’m sorry about that, it might not be fair but its always so funny. I’m missing Daniel and his constant invention of new and increasingly destructive toys, I wish we had gone to shoot arrows together. I’m missing Timothy and the adventures we’ve began to have, you should come to Korea so we can hit the crazy night scenes here. I’m missing you too Mum, I’m missing your cooking but most of all I’m missing your hugs, your smiles and your kind ears, for listening when I just won’t shut up. And Dad I’m missing you most of all, because we’ve started to connect more these days and I want that to continue and I want to hear about your past, and most of all, I want to have those rounds of golf with you and a beer at the pub afterwards. Once I’m good enough the vice-principal has promised to take me to the golf course on the American military base in Seoul. With some luck, we’ll be able to play our first game together there too.
Thanks for reading everyone, I know this has been a long one.
Much love to you all.