Wednesday, July 29, was my last day of classes. I endured the 96% humidity as I biked my way to school, keeping in mind that this is just practice for India. I always see some students along the way and we greeted each other with a brief, “Hi, hello!”. They are always amazed to see me on a bicycle. My coteacher once told me that I have a “romantic soul” because I ride a bike. Hahaha.
I only had my sixth grade classes that day, all three of them. I see these students twice a week and have been their native English teacher for two years, so I am proud to know each and every one of their names because it is difficult, especially with Korean names. Even though they’re taller, thinner from losing baby fat, and have matured, I still distinctly remember them as tiny fourth graders. In my mind, they will be that way. I can’t believe how quickly they change – now I know why my parents will always see me as their little girl. As a “special” teacher, I see several different classes and can observe that each class has its own “personality”, if you will. One class has the highest level of English, but perhaps the lowest energy and motivation. Another has students who struggle more with English, but are overly enthusiastic and have great attitudes. The other class is somewhat in the middle.
At 9:50, 6-2 came pouring into the classroom with letters for me. Some common notes are “I love you” “thank you for teaching” “I remember you” and other random sentences they know in English: “Where are you from?” “My name is ____”. We made peanut butter, jelly, and nutella sandwiches and did a big “cheers!” before eating. They had the opportunity to ask me some questions. EH raised his hand up high. “Why are you leaving?” he asked in Korean. Dead silence. I could feel all of their eyes on me awaiting a response. YS’s eyes looked like they were watering up and ES’s face drooped. During those two seconds, my eyes became wet and it was hard to respond. I got my act together and told them that I have been in Korea for a long time and I miss my family. Phew, I almost cried in class. And when the crying initiates, it tends to be uncontrollable. I honestly won’t miss teaching at my visiting school, but I will miss my main school. Very much.
After bittersweet goodbyes and lunch, all of the teachers got together in the gym for sports. We played various games with badminton rackets, the winner winning lottery tickets. Then it called for an hour worth of competitive volleyball. Almost every elementary school participates in volleyball and competes against other schools. Last year, Seorim did not care much for the sport, but with new administration and staff, the team boosted its game, hired a coach, and got uniforms; they are quite serious now. We played a few games, me standing in the back and crossing my fingers the ball didn’t come to me. I did manage to serve the ball over the net, thankfully. A success in my opinion. Even though they are competitive and very skilled in the sport, they are still encouraging and kind to each other. High fives and screams everywhere following every point. They even ran to give me high fives when the ball came flying at me and I literally hit it straight to the ground. I would say “A for effort”, but I didn’t even put effort into it…
Never saw a group of people more excited in my life. I love the supportive and positive environment. Everybody was sweaty from scrambling around in the stuffy gym – I can’t think of a better snack than cold watermelon! The exhausted teachers circled around the table to replenish the lost water with the sweet treat. A fourth grade teacher handed me a large piece, big enough that I needed to hold it with two hands, encouraging me to participate in a watermelon eating contest with the other male teachers. It would create good memories of Korea, he added. Basically, whoever consumes it the quickest wins. Most opt to eat it typewriter style, but I just enjoyed each bite since watermelon is my favorite fruit (besides Philippine mangoes). I both lost and won at the same time. The other teachers played badminton while I fooled around on the gymnastics equipment. My school happens to have a spring floor, mats, a few beams, vaults, a springboard, and a pommel horse. I practiced my old level 7 beam routine with cartwheels, handstands, leaps, full-turns, scales, back-walkovers. I probably didn’t do a back-walkover on a beam in 10 years, but it still felt second nature and I was able to do it without problems. Back-handspring and back-tucks… well those days are long gone for me. The fourth grade teacher noticed me monkeying around and asked me to demonstrate for his students. He teaches them some basic gymnastics and does P.E. every day, but his skills are limited and he wanted me to demonstrate the following day. I enthusiastically agreed. It has been my dream to skip class and go teach the kids gymnastics!
Following volleyball was a farewell teacher dinner (a surprise, of course) consisting of a surplus of grilled meat and vegetables accompanied by various kinds of alcohol. Lately, I’ve been turned off by meat, so I ate some lettuce filled with grilled onions and mushrooms and washed it down with wine poured in a soju shot glass. As evidenced by the amount of red faces circulating the restaurant, other teachers partook in higher amounts of alcohol. It’s kind of a thing you do with coworkers in Korea. I’m glad I was never pressured too much to drink. While I do enjoy me some beer with dinner, I’d rather not guzzle it in the afternoon, deeming me worthless for the remainder of the day!
I slurped up the remainder of my “dessert”, 냉면 (cold buckwheat noodles). Not a huge fan of this dish, but it was refreshing at the time. People were sweating from the grills that teachers intermittently walked over to the A/C to cool down. Yeah, it is dangerously hot and humid in Gwangju at the moment. I’ll remember this day. They were good reminders on what I’ll miss about Korea.