June 19

I haven’t seen the former fourth graders in weeks so when I entered the classroom it was equivalent to a WWE ring: they screamed my name and shouted hello.

Star student Amy, the one who drew me a portrait on the first day, gave me a Capri sun from her backpack and later showed my a postcard of BTS Jimin taped inside her notebook.

After lunch, C made all the students who did not complete their homework come to the English room and finish it there. There was one boy who sat not doing much so I sat down next to him and ended up helping him through the entire worksheet. He was such a sweetie and listened carefully. When I asked what his name was in Korean and he told me, very formally, almost like he was in trouble. I just replied “good job, Hobi”. Another boy scooted over and asked for help while one to my right occasionally asked for clarification. It was like a warm little circle and my thought was “I love these little gremlins”.

As the kids left one by one, I said BYE and C made them say goodbye back.

Two troublemakers, you know one of them as Joongki, had to stay behind and read as punishment. Both of them kept calling out to me which I ignored. You got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out of it!

I looked over later to discover Joongki was lying on the floor. I suppose as long as he was reading, it was okay.

The kids eventually shuffled out and C delivered some news.

While my contract in English says I get an exit allowance when I finish my contract, in Korean it says when I “go out” which apparently means I’m supposed to show a plane ticket to get my allowance. I’ve avoided buying a plane ticket because I had no idea about the Gyeongnam job or what my visa status would be. I’m hesitant to even buy one now for my planned exit of November-something because if anything, COVID has taught me it’s best not to make schedules too far in advance.

(Again, SMOE seems to be a tad inflexible during this pandemic. Other provinces get a completion bonus but Seoul teachers get a flight allowance instead.)

This was an annoying surprise but C said she would ask…. the office manager. Let’s see if our “drunken night together” made him more sympathetic to my plight. One can only hope.

C then turned to me and asked if she could run a personal question by me. She wanted to know what were my reasons for leaving this school but staying in Korea since other teachers would be sure to ask her when I left and she wanted to know what to say.

“Well, I haven’t really had vacation in a year. If I renew I won’t have vacation for another year, and I won’t be able to leave the country because the two week required quarantine upon my arrival back to Korea is longer than any school holiday I have. You can tell them too that I was planning to go back to the US but because of the current situation it’s safer for me and my family to stay here a bit longer before flying home.”

“But many teachers like you want and want you to stay.”

“Really?? No one ever told me that, I didn’t know.”

People think I am also a mind reader.

“It’s probably because they were afraid to speak English.”

I had to tamp down my internal emotional flare up to that.

“Maybe you don’t want to renew because the teachers are not nice?”

Yes.

“No,” I answered, “it’s because of the pollution too.”

“Many teachers will ask why you’re leaving Seoul since it is so convenient.”

Ah yes, Seoul, the center of the world.

I explained that I don’t care much about convenience (I’m also not sure what this means). The reality is also that if I want to work at a different public school I have to change provinces completely.

Also, as my long term expat friend told me, “convenient? Sorry but where you live is barely Seoul.”

I’m not going to be in Korea forever either, so it’s good to try living in many different places.

I got the sense that leaving the school but not the country was a big faux pas and insult to this school, which is hilarious because I’m a contract worker. I didn’t quit; I simply didn’t renew.

S at least tells me every time I see her she’ll miss me and won’t I stay? Today I caught her by the printer and she invited me to hang out on Monday morning while I held her hand. I told her the kids thought I was tall and she said “they say you are very pretty!”. They’ve only seen the top half of my face over a mask but I’ll take it!

Take a note, other teachers: if you want me to feel the love you gotta show the love.

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