Chapter Two


I was telling Clara how I could never keep a journal because I would self-edit to a paralyzing degree, and that I appreciated blogging because once it was sent, it was a commitment.  I also told Jane how sometimes embarrassing my blog was, with its sometimes wrong early analysis and assumptions, but that I wanted to keep it as a document of what it’s like to transplant oneself into a totally alien culture, and that even the flaws had value for others who might travel the same path.

I wanted to maximize my time and resources and be able to share as much as I could with my friends and family as an on-the-spot reporter, so they could experience WITH me:  I never imagined I would get other readership.  This process, in the end, became more like that journal I never wanted to write.

When Sara was little and we would sometimes have minor words, she would run off to her journal and scribble furiously, and I would yell at her something like, “Don’t think I don’t KNOW what you’re writing about me!”  Lenn asked me if I’d ever read her journal and I told her no, because I always knew that in the heat of the moment the passion of her writing would not include all the love and affection we had for each other.  It’s just not human nature to write about what we’re secure about, or about what makes us content, or to note all that keeps us complete and balanced.  No.  We write about what sticks out in our minds as exceptional:  we write about the extreme highs and the extreme lows.  I, too, have written only about what is exceptional.  And, it’s been an incredibly exceptional experience moving to Korea and, in particular, my experience may be more exceptional than most.

Chapter 1 included:

  • Culture shock, culture shock, and more culture shock
    • Typical west meets east culture shock
    • Learning to teach in an over-crowded classrooms with unruly boys
    • Exacerbated by self-employed free spirit meets Neo-Confuscianism
    • Looking Asian / feeling white / being treated Korean
    • Failing Korean lessons
  • Legal struggles which almost resulted in litigation
  • Typical emotionally draining returning adoptee search process
  • Atypically being featured in a documentary and dealing with press coverage
  • Being adored to an unhealthy degree by a co-worker
  • Becoming a core member of an activist group to improve Korean society for the next generation of children

So upon reflection, instead of closing shop at the virulent thoughtless comments of someone with nothing better to do than sabotage the work of others, I’ve decided it would be appropriate to institute a second chapter to this blog, since that’s really where I’m at.  Since it appears I have readers who haven’t met me in person, who haven’t experienced my demeanor or witnessed my skills and foibles, and who can’t discern my subtle and darkly dry sense of humor and who can’t see the unwavering optimism of my actions vs. the sardonic bite of my written words, then I will endeavor to work harder at a more balanced voice.

It took me over a half a year, but I now feel capable, even though I’m still learning new things and maneuvering through more cultural surprises:

  • I can now manage to engage 75% of my classrooms of forty+ high school students in a way that appeals to their intellect yet does not pamper them.  They appreciate me – NOT because I am their entertainer, but because I care about their futures, and they know that.  When I first got here, I am sure I sounded like a jerk (because I was a jerk) talking about what we westerners do.  But now when I let my students see through my western lens, I make it clear that it is not a criticism of them.  I tell them this is what WE Asians look like, this is how WE appear,  and how we need to recognize what needs to be fixed so we can improve, so WE can compete.  So WE can survive.  So our children can have a future.  They’re worried about the future.  They get this.  They appreciate this.  I’m not afraid to talk about my personal life and what I’ve seen and experienced.  It’s honest.  It’s different.  I think they like it.
  • The remaining 25% are learning about mutual consideration and respect in a highly structured and consistent manner, and are very close to joining the other 75% in more advanced lessons.  They don’t like this at all.  But it’s good for them.  In the end, I think they will have learned something priceless.
  • I really love the kids a lot and it is sad I only get to see them once a week. I’m also sad that our time is too brief and there are too many of them to learn all their names.  I wish I had a home room and could have a real relationship with one class.  I long for a smaller class size and wonder if a hagwon situation would be more rewarding.  Yet I value the lesson planning I get to do and the impact I can make.
  • The act-ups are actually the most awkward kids just trying to find some way to be appreciated.  It won’t be long before they realize they need to find more appropriate methods for attention. Just goes with the age group and territory.  But it’s painful to watch (again) and annoying to be used.
  • My favorite classes are the small group discussion classes.  I love to interview my adult students in depth and help them express themselves.  They’ve all come a long long way in confidence and ability because it’s such a safe environment and because I raise the bar quite high.
  • I love the challenge of teaching in a high school, and THE ONLY reason I am leaving is because my particular school will not provide adequate support.  If one child out of 600 is insubordinate and I tell him disciplinary action will be taken, and then the school takes no action, then that tells 599 kids that there are no rules and they can run all over the teachers.  This is not just my problem, and this is why the majority of teachers in my school are angry much of the time.   They are angry with the administration because this school does not support its teachers.  Perhaps this is the difference between a government underwritten private school and a purely public school.
  • In all my past rants about the frustration of teaching in Korea, the frustration is not with the students, but with those teachers – both Korean and foreign hagwon – who provide poor lessons and purchase the student’s favor or merely babysit so their jobs will be easier.  They make all the good teacher’s jobs more difficult.  Fortunately, I have yet to meet the hagwon teachers, though I have to deal with the entitlement the children exhibit from being spoiled by them.  They also seem to be the oldest generation of Korean teachers.  Unfortunately, one of them is my male co-teacher.
  • Individual Koreans are very endearing and they, too, struggle with all the same questions about society that I ask as a newcomer.  I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to hear their opinions and learn so much about this culture so soon.  It is sad to hear resignation in their voices and I try to give them hope and new alternatives.  It’s easy to do coming from Seattle, which is all about innovation.
  • I can’t learn a second language, so I have nothing but admiration for those that can.
  • I do have problems with group mentality as most foreigners here probably do, as I equate my individuality with my civil liberties.
  • I love the food to an unhealthy degree
  • I love how the metropolis is punctured by land masses that insist on respect.
  • I think the culture is fascinating, the society severely handicapped by its class structure, and I have the greatest sympathy for the daunting learning curve necessitated by globalization for Korea’s survival.
  • Like my other returning adoptee activist friends, I vacillate between longing for the comfort of all I’ve known in the west and sustaining myself through the discomfort of relocation so that I may, in some small way, help Korea to both keep its culture yet also create a society that values EACH and EVERY ONE of its sons and daughters.

Soooo.  I’m NOT going to shut down the blog, but I AM going to be more aware that the blog is no longer my own little pillow scream, but has a public audience and I will attempt to show what’s unspoken and second nature and centering, though in reality, that would require a laugh and a smile, which words don’t draw very well.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter Two

  1. I for one have honestly enjoyed your writing. Even if your life didn’t have as much meaning to me for obvious reasons, I think you have more of a talent for bringing your reality to us than you realize.

    i apologize for being one of the manifestations of your wider audience. I certainly would not want to intrude or interfere. But thanks. I have seen some very interesting things because of you.

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