About a week ago, a friend from home asked me whether or not Korea was treating me better this time around. I didn’t give a particularly good answer, but I did promise to blog about it when I’d had some time to think.
While it’s difficult to determine offhand whether it’s worse or better, I have found that there are some key differences between how my life is now, compared to how it was here before.
1. Being Accommodating
I remember one of the lessons we were given at orientation emphasised being accommodating – something that was a huge problem for me (and some of my coNETs) during the two years I spent in Korea, as being accommodating in our situation often meant giving up a lot rather than a little.
While I still believe in being accommodating, I’m also now more aware of what that might cost me; this is unlike the last time, where I was terrified of my school, of making a bad impression, of saying no, and of my own inadequacies, and therefore being accommodating meant not leaving much room for myself.
Compared to when I first came to Korea, I now have a better understanding of where I stand in the order of things at my school – which is the helpful part of coming back to the same school – and what I am and am not entitled to. This – as much as being older and somewhat more settled in myself than I was before – has made things easier this time around.
Prior to Korea (round 1), I very seldom had serious illnesses. In Korea (round 1), I was ill pretty much all the time. I described it to a coNET as low level plague – always having a cough or a cold of some sort – not enough to go to the doctor about it, but enough that I always felt a bit shit.
I listed my reasons for leaving Korea as “Stress and stress related illness” on a form I had to fill out. A few of the more (hopefully) amusing illnesses include:
- Losing my voice completely (leading to my first doctor’s trip since I was 17) which I blamed on singing when my students asked.
- Tension that built in my back and shoulders that lead to my hearing being cut off in my left ear. The doctor laughed.
- A bout of stomach flu that made it near impossible to walk three metres from my bed to my bathroom, but I had to go to work anyway, as my students were doing performance tests.
However, I haven’t had a serious bout of illness since I arrived here at the end of March. I did have a cold, and I did feel a bit shit, but it was not nearly as awful as the general level of shit I felt last time.
I attribute this largely to point 1.
I’ve looked back over some of my old blog posts, and I remember the events that led to them being written.
Teaching – I feel – is not a profession where one can say that one is really good at it yet, but one can see oneself improving. I am much less tense, much less anxious and much more adaptable than I once was. Part of me wishes that I had learnt this from the teachers I had worked with before, but I mostly feel that this is something I had to learn from my own experience. It is one thing to tell people to be flexible and to be willing to make fools of themselves, but it is another thing entirely to be wiling to do that straight away.
There were incidences with work back home that taught me this (which I will write about later), as well as experiences here in Korea. It’s hard to say which was more influential for me. But I know it’s made a huge difference for me to be more confident in my work, and less terrified of criticism.
But going home did another even more important thing for me – it helped me to realise which things hadn’t changed, and why it was important to remained connected to these things.
As a silly example, I now get (roughly) weekly updates on my pets from my mother. My friends message me on and off about what’s going on and how things are going with them. I’m not great at keeping connected with people, but being home taught me how important it was to do.
5. Knowing that I’m different
My 24 year old self makes me cringe. (Note: I was 24 when I first landed in Korea)
Is that a good thing? Should I think back on who I was and think “Oh god no!” at everything she said and did?
If I could start this whole journey over – moving to Korea and taking up teaching – I would handle it entirely differently. There are so many mistakes I made along the way, and so many chances I should have taken. I’m sorry for all the things I didn’t do, and all the people I didn’t get to know as well as I should have.
Knowing these things now gives me a chance to try again, and to learn all over again.
But without the cringeworthy experiences of my past self, would I have learnt what I know to be true now? Perhaps the knowledge of the change that is as important as the change itself.
Mostly I’d say things are different now, rather than clearly better. There are things that are markedly better, and some of these are things I’d rather not write about, as I doubt they’d be useful for those who don’t know me. There are also things that are markedly worse, but I’m trying not to dwell on them, as I now know that will do me no good.
More to come.