Wait – I’m Leaving Korea?

EPIK apartment, Yeongwol, Korea
Our now-former apartment.

No matter how long I have to prepare for goodbyes, I am never ready.

Jared and I, we got ready well in advance. Received our final pay packets, sorted our pension, closed our bank accounts, even got criminal record checks from the Korean police department in case we need them later.

We gave my co-teacher money for our apartment bills, printed out our flight information, shipped boxes home, and re-confirmed our apartment booking in Buenos Aires. I even did the ‘lasts’ – ate my last red bean vanilla fish, two patbingsus, a final dinner of dalkgalbi.

So why do I feel like this whole leaving thing snuck up on me?

Couples shirts in Korea
The English department gave us couples’ shirts for a leaving present. Awesome. Please ignore our weird facial expressions.

It’s as if I was strolling along the shore and got caught in a rip, and now all I can do is let it carry me away.  Thursday afternoon, we had to give farewell speeches – in Korean –  to the staff.

Mine went something like this:

Two years, still, Korean I cannot do. I’m sorry.

Yeongwol Elementary School was very fun/interesting.

Teachers and students, good.

Thank you very much.

Yeongwol Elementary School, really #1.

Rainbow in Yeongwol, Korea
And that night, after our final school dinner, there was a rainbow over the school. No joke.

But what I really meant was, holy crap, where did the last two years go? I want to take all of the little memories, the ones that didn’t stand out, and hold them in my hand. I want to tell my favorite students that they’re my favorites, to make them know how funny and smart they are and how good they made the past two years for me.

But I couldn’t do that. I said goodbye to seven homeroom classes, to 180 sixth graders, strangely devoid of emotion. That’s because on the surface, I don’t actually believe that it’s all ending.

This place, this school, my co-teachers, the kids – all of it is about to vanish from my life. In a few short hours, I’ll be sitting on a plane and the past two years will be converted to nothing more than memories. The new EPIK teachers will arrive next week, and the kids will ask them where they’re from, if they’re married, how much they weigh. We’ll be in Buenos Aires, for real, all of the planning having come to fruition.

6th grade students in Korea
I’m going to miss these kids – first taught them as 4th graders. They’ve matured so much.

Again, things will change, and Korea will become another buried layer in the onion of my life. Something I talk about in the past tense – “Remember when we were in Korea and that lady touched your butt on the noraebus?” Already, the things I’ve been complaining about are starting to evaporate, leaving behind only the good stuff. I miss the kids. I miss the security of our great job. I miss the lady in the Samsung Mart, who gave us free grape juice and hugs when we said goodbye.

Leaving Korea
And Su-kyeong, the office mascot & Jared’s co-teacher’s daughter. Oh my god, I’m going to miss Su-kyeong.

But as much as I miss it already, I don’t want to stay. I’m still processing the fact that right now, I’m at the airport about to hurtle into a new life. As my sister put it, I’m about to experience reverse culture shock in a culture that isn’t even mine to begin with.

Well. Nothing to do but jump, and hope I remember how to swim.

Buenos Aires, see you in 34 hours.

Sunset in Yeongwol
Goodnight, Yeongwol. I’ll miss those weird smiling faces of movie stars who filmed a movie there in the ’70s.



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  1. Lauren – I love your blog. It makes me feel like I’m travelling the world, even when I’m still at my computer in Surrey.

    I’m looking forward to the Argentinian sequel – especially the Tango classes. Everyone has to learn the Tango in Buenos Aires, it’s the law!

    1. Thanks so much, Pamela – it’s the only writing I’m doing these days, but hopefully that will change now that I’m an unemployed former ESL teacher! My coordination on the dance floor is questionable at best, but we’re really close to Dorrigo Square, where they hold free tango shows. At the very least I will be watching those and hoping for some inspiration.

  2. One door closes and another opens! Good luck. What an adventure you and Jared have had in Korea. Wish I had done some traveling when I was young.

    1. Thank you! I can’t believe the two years is over; sometimes it feels like we just arrived. I’m excited to see what lies ahead for us in South America (and beyond, since at the moment we have no idea!).

  3. I did a year teaching in Korea. Some good memories but overall I loved the teaching bit more than the living in Korea bit. The kids were great although the principal wouldn’t allow me to say good-bye to any of the younger classes when I left. He felt it may upset them so the official line was I was returning home for a couple of weeks but would be back again. The theory was by then the kids would have forgotten about me and got used to the new guy.

    Anyway, enjoying the updates as always. Have a great time in Argentina, should not be too much of a problem 🙂

    1. I can’t help but laugh when I read your comment – I’d say I can’t believe the principal did that, but having lived two years in Korea, I can! How awful that must have been for you, to just slip out like a thief in the night. We were able to say goodbye to our kids, but there were still a few who didn’t really ‘get’ that we were leaving.
      We haven’t even been away for two full weeks, but Korea already feels like a distant memory. Argentina is treating us well!

  4. I definitely didn’t get a formal goodbye with my students nor did I get a rainbow (!!!!). I don’t think my students really understood that I was leaving. But some teachers at my school actually cried when I left, so I guess that was my consolation.

    I totally forgot about those movie star buildings until I saw your photo. HILARIOUS.

    PS- just did a fun loop through your blog. It was 30 minutes well spent.

    1. They cried?! That’s pretty good. All my kids begged for my email address but only two of them have ever used it. I’ve even emailed two others and no response. Sigh. How quickly we are replaced.

      Glad you had a good 30 min and how much do you miss the RadioStar people? I need to watch that movie someday.

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