August 15, A Whiff of Fall

My friend and I took a lovely one night stay in Gyeongju, the original center of the Silla Kingdom. Gyeongju looked like the Korea I had always seen in tourist guidebooks but had never experienced: rice paddies, fields of tombs like mosquito bites, things that were old, things that were new but built in the traditional style.

It was especially nice since my school made a little mistake.

One of Jack’s camp kids ended up positive with COVID and as a result, Helen texted me the following Monday, my vacation day, to wait and see if I would also need to be tested. Fine. I stayed home all day waiting for a follow up and at 4:30pm, asked her for more details. She hadn’t received word from the school nurse who had been compiling the list to begin with and called Jack, instead.

“Oh yeah, everybody who was at school went to campus to get tested today.” He told her.

Everyone… but me.

I was so annoyed. Did not one person think, huh, that’s weird, our foreign teacher never showed up for the mandatory testing. Guess we should… do nothing?

So I wasted a whole day waiting, and then another, as I had to trek to the community center by myself to get a COVID test and then wait an additional 24 hours for results. I told Helen, “well, there go my three days of vacation.”

“Sorry about that,” she texted back.

I guess the school didn’t feel remorseful enough to tack those wasted days back on to my vacation total…

But even between the COVID test and the Gyeongju trip, I’ve entered a weird summer funk. I can’t tell if it’s seasonal depression or just another existential crisis.

Amidst a news cycle that grows continuously more depressing– Afghanistan, China’s crackdown on English education and therefore the evaporation of any of my China plans, billionaire space race, delta variant– I vacillate between devoting myself to a greater cause or moving to a house deep in the mountains with my herd of rescue dogs.

Sitting in mandatory office hours where I have no assigned or expected work, I feel especially useless.

For the first time in two years, I wondered today if I’ve finally hit the wall of Korea fatigue, where one inherently knows when it’s time to go.

The path to Korean fluency seems endless. I miss pre-pandemic life. I feel disconnected from my school. My work computer sucks.

I’m happy with my school placement but I don’t feel particularly connected like I did, for better or worse, to my school in Seoul. I love my kids but also know that I am easily replaceable by someone with a quarter of the passion or experience, so long as they fill the gap for “foreign native teacher”, which can feel almost demeaning at times. Like a cog in a machine.

But I also have been unable to travel, unable to see strangers’ faces, unable to go clubbing or even walk on the beach without a mask. Pandemic life seems endless.

I feel like I’m circling the answer but I’m not quite there yet. Why am I in such a rush?

I don’t want to give up on Korea plans because the pandemic wore me down. But I also want to live up to my full potential. I want to astound people. Yet who can I ask for advice? There are the corporate friends and the doctor friends and the lawyer friends but no one that has straddled the border of two worlds.

I am a perfectionist, and the “not good enough” continues to batter the inside of my head during these lonely summer office hours.

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