I still don’t know where I’m going to live for the next year. But it’s almost time to find out.

Last Wednesday we filled out placement forms. Placement preferences, and how to word these convincingly on the survey, has always been a hot topic here. There are semi-rivalries going on, since people who request the same city are in some way competing for limited slots.

Placement brought out a lot of feelings I hadn’t previously aware of or had purposefully ignored. The 24 hours before the survey due date was a rough time.

I want to be in Busan. 100%. No doubts. Which is strange because I’m normally so indecisive.

I think most of you already know my reasons, and I’ve explained this to so many people these last few weeks, but here it is one more time.

My mom’s entire family lives in Korea. And since I haven’t been to Korea since I was 2 or 3, I’ve never really met any of them. My grandparents, three aunts and an uncle are all strangers to me…but that’s finally going to change. Although they live in Seoul, Busan, Suncheon, and (temporarily) India, Busan is the most important to me.

First, it’s my mom’s hometown. Being half-Korean and coming to Korea is a surreal experience, but Busan is all the more meaningful. Rick Najera (a Mexican-American director, producer and writer) called his first trip to Mexico a pilgrimage, which caught my eye because I don’t quite have the language to describe what I’m experiencing in Korea, but I’m interested in searching for it. It’s funny how a place, a whole country even, can be brand new to me, but hold so much personal meaning.

Second, my grandparents and one aunt all live in Busan – strength in numbers I suppose. Simple as that.

Finally, I want to live closest to my grandparents. Not only are they higher on the familial totem pole – I should know my grandparents, right? – but their health is deteriorating. My grandmother in particular would have a very difficult time traveling, if she could travel at all. While I’d visit them no matter where in Korea I’m placed, I don’t want to meet them once or twice and call it good. I want to form real relationships.

Those are the reasons that I personally want to be in Busan. There are so many other reasons to want Busan; as the second largest city in Korea, it’s an extremely popular and therefore difficult-to-get placement. I’m trying to brace myself for disappointment…but at the same time avoiding it.

Originally, I had no placement preferences. I came into the Fulbright program thinking everything was out-of-my-hands. Technically this is still true. But my mindset then was that even though meeting my family was very important to me, I’d just have to wait and see where I’d be placed.

Fortunately and unfortunately, that changed, and now I’m deeply invested in Busan. Things would be easier on me if I was more open-minded about placement. While the KAEC (Korean-American Education Commission) office will try to grant at least some of our preferences, it ultimately comes down to who the schools want. If all of the available schools in Busan only want someone with a background in education, I’m out of luck. I was shocked to find that the same goes for physical appearance, including race and hair color. Schools can request that their ETA is a particular race. This is still tough for me to accept.

I went from having no preference,
to believing I could and probably would get Busan,
to becoming extremely distressed after being reminded that not getting Busan was a very real possibility,
and to finally returning to a willfully ignorant and hopeful belief that I will get Busan.

I’d love to even be in the Busan area. What seems most likely to me right now is Suncheon, since I listed it as a second choice. There is one placement available (provided that the current ETA doesn’t renew), and it’s not well-known or popular. I’m almost positive that no one here knows where Suncheon is, let alone requested it.

Here’s a run-down of what was on the placement survey:

School type (middle, high or elementary)

Gender (co-ed, all girls, all boys)

School size

English language level (i.e. low, intermediate, high level)

Religious affiliation (Christian, Buddhist, none)

Location size (urban, suburban, rural)

Environment (coastal, mountainous, inland, island)

Resource availability (proximity to other ETAs & transportation)

Extracurriculars (anything you’re interested in; i.e. volunteering with North Korean defectors)

My highlights: I ended up putting no preference for school type, and I even said I’d be willing to teach elementary school too (apparently you don’t need an education background after all). To me, what grade levels you’re going to teach should be one of the first things you know, so leaving this completely open makes me nervous. But since teaching is completely new for me, I have a lot to learn no matter what. And the school visits didn’t sway me in any direction (I visited an elementary school and a middle school). If teaching elementary school is what allows me to go to Busan, I’ll do it.

Before I left the States, I talked to a lot of people about wanting to be on Jeju Island. Alas, that is no longer true. While it would be nice to live on the Korean equivalent of Hawaii for a year, Jeju doesn’t align with my goals for the year. Travelling within Korea would be more difficult since you have to fly everywhere. Since I want to visit family, I’d like to be around easily accessible transportation on the mainland. I also want to continue studying Korean, and Jeju is a lot less conducive to that. There is a Jeju dialect that’s so strong that even mainland Koreans have difficulty understanding it. There’s also a Busan accent, but I can adapt to that.

Other than that, most of my responses were “no preference.”

Our placement ceremony is tomorrow – we’ll find out in front of everyone, but will be expected to suppress any emotion or applause at the time.

Apparently in past years, ETAs didn’t find out about the placement ceremony until the day it was held. I’ve read things like “They cancelled taekwondo class, and we didn’t know why…” In a way, we’re lucky to even know about the ceremony, but someone had let the date slip, so I already knew.

Although I’m nervous, there’s no reason to worry now. I also have a slight cold, so I might as well go to bed early.


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