I have to be honest. I was never confident about being able to do this job before I came. I was very confident about adjusting to life here, my ability to learn more Korean every day and be excited about it, my ability to make friends and be happy outside of work. I was slightly confident that I could have a leg up on other teachers because I can understand the kids and potentially entertain them with my drawing ability. I was in fact terrified of having to spend all day with kids, which I have no experience with. I was terrified to be teaching kids so young that I would actually be teaching them life and concepts, not just English. I told myself “I only need to make it through one year. Then I have other options.”
My feelings about my abilities have changed dramatically.
First of all, being an art major doesn’t mean anything. I can draw realistic pictures that impress some adults, but it it’s not as if there’s time to paint a portrait at the front of the classroom– when it comes to quickly illustrating new vocabulary words I’m a failure next to my Co. I don’t know how Korean kids are accustomed to seeing a cartoon pig drawn, or other cutesy versions of everyday objects in the world. My drawing ability is completely useless in the classroom, which is humbling.
On the other hand understanding Korean helps me tremendously. The first few weeks my kids couldn’t communicate with me at all and I imagine I would have had a miserable time if I didn’t understand anything anyone was saying. Not only can I help them get what they need in an emergency, but I can confirm that they understand what I am saying when we learn a new word, and I can tell them how to say what they are saying in English. I don’t know if the school frowns upon us using Korean to explain new words but sometimes it’s just necessary.
The first week of school was an eye-opener– I was much unhappier and under-qualified than I ever imagined. I knew nothing, I was completely underprepared for what was to come, and I was so awkward with the kids. I had visions of having to quit or being fired and figuring out how to keep my visa, being a complete disappointment to the school, and ruining these kid’s lives if I stayed. I had spent the last few months before coming to Korea worrying about what clothes to pack and what was interesting in our neighborhood. I had depended on the school giving us some information during our ‘orientation’ only to get nothing that I actually needed. Even more than my drawing ability being useless, this was humbling.
Thankfully, now that I’m no longer a child, I am not a quitter. I am here for a year and I am not here for myself– this became immediately obvious as I spent my entire day with these tiny people, imagining their futures and envisioning the hopes of their parents as a physical burden placed on my shoulders. I knew I had to change it from a burden into a challenge, one that I have been working hard to rise to.
Foreign teachers who have been here a while may mock someone who does preparation outside of contracted school hours as being saps, but I care too much about my students, my reputation, and my own pride in myself to just go home and forget about it at the end of the day. I would rather work hard and unpaid hours and do my best than just say “well, I worked from 9-5 and that’s all that’s expected of me.”
Things have improved beyond my expectations. My level of happiness and satisfaction with where I work is much higher than imagined before I stepped on the plane to come to Korea. My excitement about tackling future challenges as my kids’ abilities improve from basic phonics to being able to read sentences is almost overwhelming. From one week to the next they go from saying single words to stringing them together nonsensically but adorable to actually explaining things to me. I wish I could have all day to plan my own lessons to give them more new words to play with and open up the scope of their world. This is exciting.
It’s only been two months so I can’t predict how I will feel at the end of the year, but I can definitely say that this job has surprised me more than I can express, and I have also surprised myself the same way. I am sure there will be more surprises but I am learning enough about myself to know that I can face them.