“So often you find that the students you’re trying to inspire are the ones that end up inspiring you.” – Sean Junkins
If there’s any quotation that sums up my Fulbright Korea grant year, it is the one above.
My last day as the native English teacher at Gyeongnam Girls’ High School was Friday… and I’m still trying to process the fact that this chapter of my life is now over.
Don’t get me wrong.. I won’t miss teaching all that much. Becoming a teacher was never my dream, nor do I think it is the correct path for me. However, the girls I’ve had the privilege of working with for the past year are some of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met, and it is so hard for me to accept that now I won’t have their smiling faces to look forward to every weekday.
(last class with 2-4)
There were moments when it felt like this year would never end, and there were days when I was exhausted and dreaded walking into my next class. But overall, this year went by before I could even blink twice, and my students provided me with more reasons to smile than I ever could have imagined.
(Twinning with Jaeyeon)
If you know anything about Korea, you know it is a country of high standards. Because of the pressure to be beautiful and the pressure to go to a good college, many high schoolers go under the knife for cosmetic procedures, and the suicide rate is consistently one of the highest in the world.
Owing to this, in addition to teaching English, I wanted to teach my students about self-esteem. Although my goal for the year was to make my students believe in themselves: to believe that they were good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, I ended up believing in myself because of my students.
There wasn’t a single day that went by without my students telling me how beautiful, smart, or kind I was. Through the way my students unwaveringly believed in me, I began to believe those things about myself.
I can only hope that I managed to make my students feel the same about themselves.
My girls are so kind, smart, and talented in so many ways. I was constantly impressed by the number of amazing artists there were in my classes (multiplied by the fact that I am terrible at drawing…), and I was blown away by their dancing and singing performances at the school festivals.
(A drawing by an anonymous student of me playing guitar for them)
My students are so bright, loving, and full of energy, and my best memories in Busan were nearly all owing to them! Lunch conversations about anything from our ideal types to the problems with American health care, playing Clue at board game cafes, singing American pop songs, taking silly Snow selfies… I can’t even begin to list all the reasons why the past year has been so precious to me.
It has also been such a joy to watch students who originally were scared of or had no interest in English become active participants in class! I can’t take all the credit, their supportive classmates and my amazing co-teachers also played a large role in engaging these students and showing them that learning English can be fun!
(The majority of the English department teachers at our Final Luncheon)
I feel like such a proud mother of my babies at Gyeongnam Girls’ High School. My year looking after hundreds of high school girls made me feel older than my 22 years (also in Korean age I’m 24…). I will never stop being concerned about their well-being or being excited by their accomplishments. While I may not always be present for them in person, I will always be with them in spirit.
I don’t know what I did to deserve you girls, but you were honestly the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I am so thankful that I had the honor to be your teacher for a year, and I will never forget you.
It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later!
Next stop: Nanjing! (Hopkins Nanjing Center Certificate – Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies M.A. Candidate 2019)