I started the 2009 Korean public school year with a smile of many hopes and wishes. I was excited to work at Singa Elementary School, so full of hopes that I really didn’t have any negative thoughts in my head or my heart. I thought that I would stay at least one year, most likely two, and maybe even more. But over the course of the year, I ran into a temporary roadblock, being an adopted kyopo in a Korean Korean workplace, and a major roadblock, Kim Yu Yeong. She’s treated me badly (the hitting, almost hitting me with a car, the racist comments, the discriminatory comments, telling the students not to listen to me, etc.) and that’s on her, but I haven’t always reacted the best, particularly just smiling and turning the other cheek.
The morning was a bit rough with some of the 5th grade girls hugging me and asking why am I leaving and Yu Yeong staying. Then several 3rd grade girls grabbed my legs and said that they weren’t going to let me go, I had to stay with them. Around 11am, there was a good-bye meeting, where the leaving teachers could say their good-byes to everyone and everyone could say good-bye to them. It was so sad to hear some of the teachers, and there were a lot of red eyes from many of the teachers. When it was my turn to speak, I glanced over and Yu Yeong is laughing, I’m already fighting back tears and then seeing her laugh and smile at me, just brought back all the bitterness and the anger. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out what is so bad that ‘s happened to her that made her the person that she is today, what could scewe the way that she feels to be right and wrong to be the way that it is. After everything, we did the good-bye line, where all the teachers who will teach at Singa next year line up and the teachers that are leaving say good-bye one by one to each remaining teacher. When I get to Yu Yeong, she’s laughing at me again and telling me, baiting me, that she gets to stay and I’m leaving. I just had it. I lost it. And I yelled, “You’re a ‘frackin’ b…” (use your imagination to figure out what I actually said) And she loved that I lost it.
Afterwards when other teachers were talking to me about everything. I was a bit upset that when I’m gone, every little thing that Yu Yeong feels like saying about me, she can, that there will be no one to defend me, to tell the truth, because it’s simply not the Korean way to defend the truth or to bring justice. My two other co-teachers started to defend her, protecting the Korean shield. One of my co-teachers asked me why I would want her to tell the truth about Yu Yeong if she says something negative about me, that it’s wrong of me to want people to know that I wanted to stay but the problems with Yu Yeong were too much, to mentioned that she physically harmed me, that she tried to hit me with her car, that she interferred with my job in so many negative ways. Another teacher told me that she heard of the things between me and Yu Yeong, but she couldn’t believe that I was lying, but she couldn’t believe that a Korean would do any of those things.
It’s hard to smile because the conversations that I had at the end, made me want justice and retribuation. I know in the bottom of my heart, that everyone has their day in front of God, that they will answer for everything bad that have done and they will be rewarded for everything good that they’ve done. But I’m blinded by my mortality, my inability to really comprehend more than the next few years, so I want justice now, not some far off time, but now.
It’s also hard to smile because I changed career paths to become a teacher, to make a difference. In the States, if I did a fraction of the things that Yu Yeong has done, I would be fired, most likely never to be allowed to work with children ever again. But because this is Korea and the Korean Teachers Association is so strong that nothing that she’s done is a fireable offense here in Korea, so as long as she doesn’t kill anyone or really harm a student beyond all the negative things that she told my 5th graders this year, she’s golden.
I’m smiling because at the end of everything, I did the best that I could at the time. Now looking back, having learned new things as a teacher, talking with other teachers, etc. I know more things, more tricks, that I could make those old lessons even better. And deep down, as my friends remind me, no matter what Yu Yeong says or does when I’m gone, the students will remember not necessarily me, but my efforts and the fact that I cared, I really cared, I really tried my best. And this chapter in my life is over, now I’m just a tourist in Korea, packing up the rest of my things and looking forward to my next chapter. The clock’s ticking and I’m smiling.