I’m currently back home in Colorado, reenergizing before another year in Korea. In just a few days, it’ll be time to head back to Jungwon University, where ETAs endure 6 weeks of orientation this time every year. This year I’ll only be there for a couple days before setting off for my new placement. It’s definitely time to get my first day lesson plans together.
Before I left Korea for the summer, I came across the blog post of an incoming ETA. She was so excited about getting into the program, coming to Korea, and preparing her teaching wardrobe. Her excitement was contagious, and instantly I remembered when I was still this excited. When I received the call that I was accepted, I paced around in circles before thinking to call and tell my parents. I was bright-eyed (although jet-lagged) and ready to absorb all the information I could during orientation. And when I finally got to my placement, I woke up excited, sometimes even ecstatic about my job for months.
I miss that enthusiasm, where although teaching certainly wasn’t effortless, being in Korea was. By the end of the year, not so. I’ve let a lot of things dampen my experience, but in my second year, I’d like to wake up and make the most of my time in Korea. These are some broad goals (but mostly reflections) for my second grant year.
1.) Rediscover Enthusiasm
The honeymoon stage of my cultural adjustment trajectory has long since ended; my initial excitement is gone. But perhaps I’ve also been disappointed one too many times. The more you know about an organization, the more flaws you see. And when you have a group of 74 high-achieving, highly vocal young professionals, those flaws come to light very loudly and quickly.
I’ve spent time being irritated, shocked, angry and bitter. I’ve thought about whether just being grateful for this opportunity would be the best route to take. But when one of these flaws (miscommunication) impacted me directly, that wasn’t the route I took.
2.) Create Positive Change
Although it takes great humility to admit it, I’m still figuring out the balance between useless and useful criticism. Sometimes, it might only be a matter of timing or media. There are also times to remain silent. But even according to Biblical standards, there’s a time for flipping tables.
I’m thinking a lot about how to improve a system in which I have little power or influence and encourage some form of positive change, no matter how incremental it feels. I’m sure that wherever I end up in the future, this is a skill I’ll be needing.
3.) Keep a Sense of Humility
Being a second year in the Fulbright Korea program doesn’t sound like much, but essentially, that makes you the senior. The maximum number of years an ETA can stay in Korea is three years, and last year there were only around 4 third years. While this year, there is an unprecedented number of both second and third years, there’s a strict culture of hierarchy in Korea that emphasizes a difference between age and experience.
In some ways, it’s probably natural to think of yourself as higher on the totem pole if you’re older (which isn’t necessarily the case between renewees and first years) or if you have more teaching experience (which also often isn’t the case). Renewees have an advantage in understanding the culture of South Korea and the Fulbright program in Korea, but I often felt that I didn’t have the chance to connect with renewees last year. Nothing can beat the bonds formed at Jungwon, I guess. But I want to close the renewee-first year gap and get to know the amazing individuals who have just entered the program.
4.) Build Connections
Connecting with other ETAs is partly a selfish goal…because connections help me survive and keep me sane. Good relationships with your host family and coworkers is one thing, but encouraging and uplifting someone going through the same situation is, for me, life-giving. I’ll readily pull myself out of everyday drudgery or holiday blues if someone else needs encouragement. It’s one of the little things I’ve learned about myself.
Living in another country and being on guard and hyperaware of my emotional statement has also had me thinking a lot more about happiness. Between learning about the research of an ETA who studied positive psychology, and teaching the Happy Gyoshil curriculum in my club class last year, thoughts about health, happiness, and as they like to say in that field, thriving, are constantly buzzing around in my mind. One psychologist said that the key to happiness in two words is “other people.” Having taught this material, it’d be silly not to apply it to my own life.
5.) Be Consistent
Finally, I’m ending with a new-year’s-resolution-type reflection: consistency. Yes, this includes working out – guess I’ll have to find a gym near my homestay – and studying Korean – guess I’ll be looking for classes too. Even more importantly for me though is spirituality and a relationship with God. I’m fortunate to already know a Christian community in my placement who will encourage and support me, despite any sabotage on my part (i.e. busy schedules, laziness or simply getting too comfortable).
I want to return to my original goal of one blog post a week, and prepare for life after Korea in the form of the GRE and graduate school applications. And of course I’ll finally meet my uncle who will soon be back from India and build on relationships established with the rest of my Korean family. It sounds like a busy year, but one that’s full of things I love.