My Eyes Are Open
February 27, 2011 16 Comments
To my friends and family I’m sorry its been so long since my last post. When I first started this blog I did it with the idea that the updates would be rather regular. However I didn’t take into account how greuling the orientation is as well as whats its like to have a social life in a college setting. BUT! I have about a half an hour to write something that will show you guys where exactly I am right now.
EDIT: This post took literally two days to make. I was constantly interrupted and shuffled to other things. Later tomorrow on I’ll make another post for photos.
Like I said before, the classes are a bit greuling. They come one after the other back to to back. Most are lectures dealing mainly with teaching, however nearly all of them are contradictory. I’m not quite sure what my role will be when I arrive in a school and I’m starting to understand more and more why we’re not told exactly which school we’ll all be shipped out to. At some schools we will be the primary english teacher, which means we’ll have a strict guidline of curriculum to follow. At other schools we’ll be something like an aid, which simply provides the kids a cultural chance to be exposed to english speaking norms. At some schools we’ll need text books. At some schools we’ll make up our own curriculum. Supposedly most of the women will go to elementary schools while the men go to middle and high schools. It’s funny that I’m this far along in the process and I still ahve about as much information as I did when I was back in the states. Aside from a wealth of teaching materials and knowledge I would say this is a very disorienting orientation.
However, it’s finally starting to set in that this isn’t just a year long vacation in a foreign country. This really is a teaching job. I knew that from the start but considering I never really believed I would be here I’m comming to terms with that. Everything I really didn’t like about my could possibly be multiplied. Here in Korea its believe that personal and professional lives are linked together, and this is a large drinking culture so it is inevitable that my principal will ask me to go to dinner and out drinking. However, at the same time Korea people are very…hmm..how do I describe it. They are very judgemental in a kind of passive agressive way while at the same time existing in a culture where artifical signs of traditional respect are very important. I can best describe it in this situation:
If I do get invited out drinking (which 99% of the time will happen) I cannot make a toast, I cannot pour my boss a drink or else I will upstage him. When my boss raises to fill my class I must hold my glass with both hands to show how humbled I am (I should also incluse that any gift or item passed must be recieved with both hands). Supposedly when I take my first sip I must turn away from the table and cover the mug with my hand (it is impolite to drink infront of higher ranking or older people) however more than likely my boss will move my hand away (this shows that we are in an informal gathering and that he accepts my prescence). I can drink and they will encourage me to drink, but if I drink too much they will have a negative impression of me (just like anywhere). However, no matter what they will continue to fill my glass and everytime I must accept (or else I will dishonor my host and destroy the group mood). So if I don’t want to drink anymore I have to leave my glass with just enough in it that its not empty (which softly signals that I am done). If my boss decides to make a toast I must raise my glass with one hand on my glass and the other supoorting my arm (once again to show that it is a heavy burden) then I must let his glass toast higher than my own (showing that he is over me and my superior). If I want to leave I must express the intention far in advance so i don’t destroy the group mood. This may not always be the norm and alot of things are changing (like the idea that I have to cover up my glass) but it depends from time to time.
But onto another note…the people here are some of the most fascinating I’ve ever met. I’m absolutly positive that just in being around so many people from such trully diverse backgrounds has completely changed my outlook on life. Already after only 5 days I have learned more about myself and my race than I have in over 4 years at an all black, all male college. Not too long ago I started talking to a friend of mine who is a Caucasian South African Native (yes, they do exist and the country is as much theirs as America belongs to African Americans.) She told me about her country and her views on Nelson Mandella and her view on why the political system were failing. She told me that her family could have been slaughtered in a rebellion and there was so much missinformation going around she didn’t even learn about it until years later when she went to college. She spoke unabashedly about black people running a majorilly black populated country in a way that made me blush for its harsh frankness.
She began to tell me all these things…and I had to admit complete ignorance. I never knew these things and although I pretended to know them back in the states I’m sure very few people know about them. I felt ashamed. I should know about the atrocities in Africa…but then my friend stopped me. South Africa is not my country. Hundreds of years ago I did have ancesters from there, but I am so far removed from that place that I shouldn’t feel terrible about another countries plight that doesn’t effect me. Yes the attrocities are horrible (and I support money and aid sent to that country) but there is no reason I should feel bad for not being completely affiliated with a country that has no relevancy towards me. Africa is not my country, it is not the motherland, and I’m sure if I were to travel there I would find myself as much of a stranger there as I feel right here in S.Korea. However I did start to realize some similarities between how my friend felt in her home country and how I feel as an african american at home, but (those are much harder to express and I’ll save that for another entry) in that moment and from that moment on i stopped being aware of my own race. It’s not so much being black in America that causes me to have that mindset as much as it is the social situation of my people, but I am no longer in that situation. That is no longer my reality (at least this year). And let me tell you it was fantastic to set down that load. I could be myself without having to tweak some part of my image to satify those people who were racially conscious around me. It was good to simply be myself because I am me.
(However…I do recognize I will have a new social situation and racism is a part of it.)
I am having fun here but I miss you all. It feels nice to know that I can still make new friends, that I am still a socially outgoing person, but I can’t foget all the people back home that made me. I wonder how my Mom is getting along without my company. I wonder how my Dad is getting along without my physical help. I wonder how my sister is doing without me to drive her around. I wonder how my brother’s business is doing. I wonder how my niece and nephew are doing without their uncle to keep them company. I wonder how my friend Tim is doing in his new job. I wonder how my friend Tyler is doing with school. Even though we are no longer talking, I wonder how my cousin is doing with his new girlfriend. While my life has only began to start turning here in Seoul I have to remind myself that time is still moving where you guys are and I am only left to imagine.
I remember taking Tim to the Washington Memorial the week before I left. I remember reading in the exhibit that the greatest thing George Washington did for America as a whole was to step down from power. I think back to what my friend told me about South African leaders desiring constantly to be president for life and the history of Seoul which in the past 50 years was simply a series of presidential coups and I am inclined to agree. The greatest thing you can do to allow anything to grow is to let it exists without your guidance. You all have done that to me. In the years following college I stayed with friends and family, but I was never helkd back. When I moved back in with my parents I was never really told what to do. And When I decided to make this trip to Seoul you all supported me and pushed me to go. I’ll never forget that.