Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Two Lives

I've come to realise that I have two lives now, far and distant between, both populated with people I love and care about. Both filled with ambitions and desires, the paths of which intertwine and weave, criss crossing through and around memories. Memories of friends, memories of family, memories that I wish would remain forgotten and memories I fight to hold onto. And amidst all of this I find myself asking the same question that has haunted me all my life, who am I?

I called mother, and I called sister - hear me, listen to me, love me. This is all I want, all I need. Validate me. I call mother because she's easy in the way's mothers must be, but also because that validation and love is priceless, in the same way that only a mother's can be. I call my sister because her's is harder to come by, too caught up in adolescent self concern. I don't blame her, she's growing and needs the care more than I. I hope that in the middle of my own self interest, I managed to give her some.

I'll repeat again that teaching is the hardest thing that I've even undertaken. There is just too much to care about and too many lives to invest yourself in. If you have 530 students and invest just a fraction of your self into each of those, then how much do you leave for yourself?

When your life is split into two, divided each way by a mere 8200 kilometers, how do you bridge that divide without dividing your self?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The First Time I Cried - A Collection of Experiences, Pent Up, Bottled and Shaken

My eyes sore and my nose is blocked, mucus clogs my throat and makes it hard to swallow. Trails of salty tears run down my face, glistening in contrast to the dark patches and shallow skin beneath my eyes. Today marks the first time I cried, the first time my tears have fallen on Korea soil, and for what? Mounting pressure? Home sickness? Delayed culture shock? The inability to fulfill my own unrealistic, potentially impossible expectations of myself? Or perhaps it was just imagining seeing my family again, those that I do miss so dearly. Today, I feel utterly alone.

Really, the day wasn't that bad. This has been a build up, like steady rain and a rising river. No matter how gentle the rain, if the sun doesn't break, or doesn't break for long, the banks will eventually burst. Right now I am that river and my school, my struggles, they are the unrelenting storm. At the dawn of every week I'm faced with over 530 teens, all of whom I will only see once this week, for 50 minutes. In that 50 minutes I must motivate them, get them excited to learn a language that many of them never expect to use, (at least in the realistic and foreseeable future for a teen) build their confidence, teach them new expressions and give them an environment in which they can practice their English, and all of this whilst sticking to randomly selected textbook topics like 'Pluto, Whatever It Is, It is There' and 'FAQs About Oral Hygiene' - both useful AND fascinating. Why my Korean lessons haven't been based on these topics I simply don't know. Oh yeah, and the kids struggle with answering 'how are you?'.

Out of my 530 plus kids I'm emotionally attached to at least a quarter of them, these are the kids that have annoyed me, befriended me, are super smart, are troubled, are in love with me, disabled, really fat, really skinny, really beautiful and really ugly. Sorry if you're a normal kid guys, you're just not that memorable - but I'm trying. But you know what? It's killing me. You kids don't realise how much it hurts me when something is wrong, when you don't try, when you don't live up to your own abilities. With every triumph there is another sad tale.

I remember Minjae (민재) clearly, a bright young girl, pale faced and quiet. But I remember her for her smile, a smile I don't think many were privileged to see, a smile that made her face shine like the light of the universe was contained within her, a bursting to get out. When
I first met her though, she was a troubled girl, quiet and reluctant to participate. At first I picked on her, scolding her for a lack of interest and punishing her for passive resistance, that was until I saw the hurt on her face and realised the damage that I'd done. So we met after class and I asked for the real reasons, could she not understand me? No! She understood everything and that was part of the problem - she had lived in Russia for some time, spoke Russian, Korean and English to a reasonable degreee - she was bored and troubled and nobody seemed to care. So I apologised and offered to try and change things, to challenge her, and we left it at that. The next time I saw her was two weeks later at the sports carnival, she spotted me and called to me, bright and cheery. As I turned she snapped a photo of me and smiled, the universe smiled with her. Cheeky bugger, I snapped a photo of her back. Two weeks later she left school and I haven't seen her since. I was devasted. I know she's smart, I know this is best for her right now, I know that she'll be okay - but in my heart of hearts, I feel this - that we failed her. The school had failed that girl and it should never have been that way.

So my coteacher is late, he's starting to make a habit of this and we need to talk. Not that there's much coteaching happening, but every time I ask for input the responses are muted by the Korean way. I like to think I operate outside of the box and maybe this is part of the problem. This time around though, I notice him in the edge of my peripheral, filming me. When did this start and why? Knowing better than to embarrass him in front of the students I continue as if all is planned and I'm fully aware and the next thing I know, he's gone. I'm solo teaching - wtf? Now I don't mind this, this is fine. But I've got 33 kids who don't speak English well and no ready means for translation. The classroom internet has gone down, something I immediate attribute to his tinkering without telling me. (Another habit he has. I'm happy to admit that the English room is for all to share, but it's only my lessons which get done in there. In that respect, it's my territory and they can't expect to change things on me without telling me.) I make a mental note to discuss this with him, later discovering that he has left the school and is attending a conference. Ah, so now I know who is watching the video of me. Shame about the class, it was a poor lesson, shame about my appearance and teaching energy, I was tired and felt like shit. Thanks a lot, I'd just like to point out that I'd never do the same to you.

My life is filled with good people and good students, but through my own setting of unrealistic expectations, I remain destined to fail.

I'm in a dark place and the pent up emotions of my struggles are cascading down my cheeks.
I made a rule sometime ago that I would not publish anything to this blog if I were in the down stage of the cycle. Because life here is like that, like anywhere else, a cycle of ups and downs - only here life seems to be magnified a thousand fold. But to hell with that, it's time to be honest.

If you've read this much then thanks, a part of my Self not belongs to you, treat it well.

With love,