I write these words, sitting in a freshly cleaned studio apartment while the laundry dries and the honey-scented candle flickers. Today, I worked up the courage to start unpacking my clothes and finally hung some of them in the closet. On my first or second day here I unzipped my suitcase, laid some clothes on my bed and got some hangers to start putting them away, but I couldn’t do it. I hung one shirt up and threw the rest back into the suitcase. It took me a couple of days to process why this was so hard. It wasn’t that I lacked the energy or motivation to simply hang up my shirts and skirts and pants, what I finally realized was that my clothes hanging in the closet is a sign of permanence. I put my kitchen together, organized my things on the desk, and started to settle into somewhat of a routine as school started… but my clothes stayed put. Wrinkly and unorganized. It finally dawned on me as I was talking to Andrew about it one morning: I can’t empty my suitcase because whenever I look at it, I picture it in my bedroom at home, against the wall at the foot of my bed in my favorite place in the world… and there it sits now, at the foot of my bed in Korea. It’s like my last sliver of home, and if I put my clothes away here, it means I’m actually living here.
Well friends, I am actually living here, and today was the day I hung up my clothes and put them away. Here, in South Korea.
You may think this is somewhat of a trivial story, but coming to accept that this really is my life now is a big deal. This week has been nothing short of exhausting, lonely, and depressing- but only sometimes. My dear friend Jess reminded me a few days ago, that ‘It’s okay to feel the hard and the good simultaneously. Often they are the same thing anyway.’ I have realized the truth of this statement in such profound ways this week, because each time I feel the waves of loneliness or depression come over me, God presses His hands of grace to cover me and I am reminded that all will be well. The pangs of anxiety and frustration that come with trying to figure out this thing called “teaching” and the stabs of sadness that come from living alone in a foreign city have always, always, been met with the peace and joy of God’s presence. He is teaching me so much!
All that to say, here are some specifics on what life in South Korea is like so far, as well as some thoughts that I have been processing and experiencing from my first FULL week of school. I came home from school last night and sat down to write these words, so they may be scattered and messy, but I thought the best way to share my week with you would be to share it exactly as it came to me, exactly as I remembered and processed them. So here goes.
- Korean students are CHAMPS. Not only do they go to school all day and hagwons in the evening and study all night, but they put up with their frazzled, unorganized, unprepared english teacher. Then they still smile and wave and cheerfully skip out the door saying, “See you next time!” as if Katelyn Teacher might have actually taught them something, or as if they just might actually like her. Either that, or they’re just really happy to leave.
- It’s officially Korean Thanksgiving- otherwise known as Chuseuk. From 2 of my student’s parents I received a HUGE box of seaweed and a bottle of fine skin oil. (???) Hashtag blessed.
- A little background on my school/teaching situation: Since my sister got married on August 24, that pushed my departure date back over a week from when the school wanted me to arrive. This meant I got no training whatsoever since the foreign teacher I replaced had already left and therefore wasn’t available to help me transition, or to train me, or to help me. I was essentially starting all on my own, with the exception of one English-speaking teacher who explained how to go through the curriculum and when to arrive at school each day. That being said, I cannot say enough how grateful I am to work at such a great school. The teachers and principal have been incredibly patient and gracious with me when I make mistakes, and have given me the best constructive criticism on my work so far. Criticism of any kind has always been very hard for me to take, being as sensitive as I am, but God is giving me thicker skin, and helping me take their points as helpful and not hurtful. This has made all the difference! The difference in monday/tuesday to thursday/friday is NIGHT and DAY. From crying in the bathroom stall and praying they would fire me to practically skipping down the sidewalks after work…. I am filled with awe and thanks that God has put me in such a wonderful place with such wonderful teachers.
- AND THEY ARE SO GENEROUS! Grace, a teacher I work with is ACTUALLY an angel. She greeted me at my office door yesterday with an iced americano before classes started. I just wanted to hug her neck. More so, I just want to be like Grace. She shares everything, always ALWAYS smiles, and has a kindness that is almost electric. Community is a big deal here as well, and the principal bought us all dinner on Wednesday night. We sat in a classroom on chairs that were too small and ate sushi and soup and they laughed at my inability to use chopsticks and eat wasabi and I left with a stomach and heart happy and FULL.
- Nothing is better than getting to be “Katelyn Teacher.” I am always giddy with happiness when I hear kids say my name- I don’t know why. As a counselor, I loved being called “Miss Kate” but there’s something about hearing tiny voices with Korean accents calling out “Teacher!” and they mean ME.
- Fun fact: by the end of each day, my thoughts are either in simple, simple sentences, or english with a korean accent and no article adjectives. When that’s all you hear, it’s hard to even switch your mind to what English actually sounds like. So I feel like my grammar is getting way better since I constantly correct my student’s speaking/writing/conversing, but my thoughts are completely Korean-toned.
- That awkward moment when the principal momentarily thinks she hired a teacher who doesn’t know what a gerund is… that was a really, really tense couple of seconds.
- Emily, the teacher with the really good english came to me the other day and said these exact words: “The students all come to me and say ‘Katelyn Teacher is sooooooo tall!” …I just knew that would happen. Also Emily told me I have “above average feet.” And– I’m pretty positive one of my 2nd grade students one day was trying to tell me that I have a big nose. So that was cool, because every other person I pass on the sidewalk either does a double-take when they see me or they just stare. And kids point. I. Feel. Awesome.
- I am so thankful that my area is so easy to get around. It’s pretty much a straight shot to school, and the whole area where I live more or less revolves around a huge traffic circle, so it’s easy to locate where you are. Also, street signs are in korean AND english. Praise be to Jehovah. I’m learning where I want to go based on asking myself, “Is it in the direction of city hall?” “Is it across from the sports park?” “Is it next to E-Mart?” and it’s been so fun to wander and actually know where I am and where to go to get back home. However. The sidewalks are brick, and in most places they are pretty much falling apart, and everyone rides their bike directly at you and they don’t move out of the way until they’re about to run you over. Oh, and crossing the street (unless at a major intersection with lights) is pretty much a mad dash with a prayer that they won’t run you over. Bonus: Korean’s honk their horns like it’s their job.
One last story…
This was Wednesday. I woke up depressed, exhausted, fragile, weak, homesick, lonely… safe to say it was the lowest point so far, and pouring down rain. I cried most of the morning, just feeling so sad and empty. One of my family’s dearest friends, Jennifer Thomas, sent me a message as I was walking out the door for school and simply said, “I’ll tell you what. I love that Jesus is sitting right in the room with you. I’m going to keep asking him to hold your hand super tight.” A part of me definitely thought, “nope. I’m completely alone because right now I FEEL completely alone,” and I walked out of my building into pouring rain, without an umbrella. (I headed to the grocery store to buy one, but then I remembered that I hadn’t really eaten lunch so I bought yogurt instead). I thought I would be ok, though, because most of my walk to school is underneath trees, and the rain was only a light drizzle for 20 out of the 30 minutes it takes to get there. As I was standing at a crosswalk only 10 minutes away from school, it started pouring. And I started crying… again. I hadn’t taken one step across the street when I felt someone behind me. …It was a smiling old man with an umbrella he was holding over my head. I pointed in the direction of my school, and he walked me the rest of the way to the stoplight, all the while speaking in Korean though we clearly couldn’t communicate to each other. He was laughing. I was sobbing.
Friends, that man was Jesus holding my hand super tight. That umbrella over my head was Jesus, reminding my weary heart that He will never leave me.
I told my mom this story today and I realized- I was supposed to be here for that moment. I wouldn’t have experienced Jesus in all of the realness of rain and smiles and tears and umbrellas had I not been here. Best of all, this is who Jesus is for all us! Always there, always protecting and looking out and desiring the best for us, even if it’s pouring rain. The rest of the week was infinitely better after that wonderful, beautiful, gracious 10 minute walk.
As always, thank you for your prayers…. look at what God is doing- big things through the small things. I can only attribute the fact that I am surviving so well here to God’s kindness and grace. I can only attribute the fact that I put my clothes away today to God’s mercy and strength, and much of it being ushered into my life by your prayers. May it all be for His glory.
“So cheer up, my brothers- live in the sunshine. We’ll understand this all by and by”
“…in the presence of Him who he believed, God, who gives life to the dead and calls these things which do not exist as though they did;who, contrary to hope, in hope believed” Romans 4; 17,18