Well, my time in Korea has come quickly to an end. The next soil I stand on will be from a land I have not been to in over a year.
I admit I kind of let this blog get behind over the last week, and I think that was mainly because as I saw the end coming closer and closer, I grew emotional. I was afraid writing about it would make it real, if that makes any sense.
So back to my last day of school. First, I went up to my classroom to tidy things up and do a bit of organizing for the next ETA, when something amazing happened. Ye Ram, my loudest student, and also one of my most disruptive students who I thought at one point had been expelled (I was wrong, I guess it was just suspension) came into my classroom with tears going down her cheeks and gave me a big hug, saying “Allison, don’t go.”
I was so surprised. Considering how many times I had to give Ye Ram death glares to quiet up, I just did not expect it. But it was definitely the first major tear-jerking moment of the day.
Since I only see my classes once a week, I had been saying good bye to each class all week. But on Friday, Mrs. Go had me go to each class as they were being taught by other teachers to say good bye again. And since it was the final day, it was much harder. My students kept saying “Teacher, don’t cry,” which just made me cry harder, which was a very vicious cycle.
After my last class, I sat in my classroom alone for a few minutes, and looked around me. I thought of the hard moments, those classes I had when I first started teaching and I wanted to hide under my desk in the fetal position. And then I remembered some of the amazing moments. When my students made me laugh by saying something rediculous. I still think my favorite one is when I started dancing one morning and one of my students screamed, “My eyes!”
Before I left Seondeok, the teachers had a little ceremony for me. I received gifts: two collections of Korean poetry with English translations, a Seondeok year book (yes, with my photo in it) and a Korean painting of the mountains.
I greatly appreciate the gifts, and I thanked everyone warmly, but I also said the true gift they had given me was letting me teach their students.
Mrs. Go was going to take me to the bank so I could transfer all my money in my Korean account to America and then close my Korean account. As she and I walked to her car, my principal followed us all the way to see me off. He thanked me for all my hard work.
By the time I made it back to my homestay, I sat in the middle of the floor of my room, just trying to make sense of everything.
I spent most of that weekend packing, but one Saturday night my younger host sister Youngjoo (who was one of my students came to me and said, “Allison, my friends and I made this for you.”
She handed me a large, laminated piece of construction paper with about ten post it notes. On each post it note was a note that said nice little things like, “Come back to Korea soon!” or “You are a good teacher!” As I read each one, tears kept coming.
Sunday night was my last night in Gyeongju, and my last night with my homestay family. They asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. I requested Korean barbeque, Sangeyupsal.
I don’t know if I have said much about Korean barbeque, but it is amazing, and nothing like barbeque in America. You are given little slices of meet that you cook on a little pan in front of you. Then you take a large leaf from the provided baskets and put the meat in it plus any other topping you might desire. What I like to do is put in meat, roasted garlic, and mizo paste. It is amazing.
That was a great meal, quite possibly the best one I have had all year.
The next morning, my host father had to go to work, and my host sisters had to go to school. They each gave me a big hug. Youngjoo was crying. I wrapped her in my arms as tightly as I could and whsipered to her that I thought she was an amazing, sweet girl.
I didn’t start crying crying until my host mom started driving me away from the apartment to take me to the bus terminal. As I watched the apatment disapear from sight around a corner, it was like a part of my life was vanishing with it.
I planned my journey to Incheon airport very carefully. I wanted to make it as stress free as possible. Therefore, I decided over a month ago to take a bus straight there from Gyeongju the day before my flight, and booked a room at a guest house near the airport which offers a service to pick you up from the airport and drive you there.
After a six hour bus ride, I went into the airport, I went to the information kiosk asking if they would call my hostel for me so they could come pick me up. But when I talked to the manager, he said in confusion, “You are too far away for us to pick you up.”
“I thought you were ten minutes away from the airport,” I said.
“We are. But you are an the Incheon bus terminal, not Incheon airport.”
I had had no idea there was an Incheon bus terminaI, so I guess when I had gone to the bus station that morning and asked for Incheon, that is what they gave me. I hung up the phone and went straight into problem solving mode. I told the woman at the information kiosk that I need to get to airport, and asked her how I could.
She told me it was about an hour away on a public bus or subway.
I had planned my excursion so I would not have done either of those things. At that moment, I had a lot of heavy baggage with me, and dealing with that kind of cumbersome stuff with you on crowded public transportation can be very difficult. So even though I am much more comfortable with buses than subways, I chose the subway route. Still inconvenient to be sure, but less so by far.
The woman gave me a lot of help, giving me a map and circiling the stops and transfers I needed to make. So in the miracles of all miracles, I was able to take an hour long subway ride with two transfers and did not get lost. Booyah! Of course by the end of it my arms were aching from luggina round my huge suitcases and sweat was pouring down my back from my heavy backpack, but I finally made it to the airport, where I called my hostel back and they picked me up.
And now here I am on my plane. I am aware that in this post and many of my latest posts contain a lot of saddness at leaving Korea, but when I was waiting in the airport, I pulled out my photo album of my family members and friends. I made it before coming to Korea as something I could look at when I got homesick. I kept looking at one of the photos I had on the first page. It is a photo from my college graduation. I’m still in my gown, hat, and all of my cord/ stole regalia. I am with my little sister Maggie, and our arms are wrapped around each other.
Right now I am no longer thinking about everything I will miss in Korea. I am thinking about what I will see when I get off this plane. Well, after picking up my baggage and get through customs, that is.
You know, when I came to Korea, I brough an American flag pin, and even though it is very small, I somehow did not lose it. Just before the plane took off, I pinned it to my shirt. I guess it was my own little celebration of returning home and demonstrating my patriotism. Because while I love traveling and love criticizing the American government to no end, I am American, and I am proud of it, and I am happy to be heading home… finally.
I began this post with saying “My year is coming to an end,” but I wish to ammend that. I chose not to look at this as an ending. I would like to instead think that I am simply about to go on another journey. And while I am leaving Korea, Korea will never leave me.