Today marks exactly one year since I departed SoKo! It’s been pretty rocky (see the last post for details). I went through a variety of emotions and I keep having to remind myself why I left. But first I want to reflect on why I stayed in a few different posts–starting with this one.
Teaching has always been something that I wanted to do. I went to South Korea with my English Lit degree and I was armed with about 10 days worth of “teacher training” upon arriving in “The Land of the Morning Calm”. I had no clue what I was doing, and I had no idea what it meant to really teach.
There’s so much I look back upon fondly and I often think–OMG I MADE A MISTAKE! ABORTMISSION!! GOBACK!! These thoughts are often at the fore-front of my mind when I am the sole person trying to manage a class of 40 students on a warm Friday afternoon, or when I am sitting in front of a stack of about 180 student responses in need of grading.
Teaching is really tough. What I was doing in South Korea wasn’t teaching, not exactly. Sure, some people head overseas to teach with some experience under their belt and are able to do wonderful things for their students academically–I was not one of those people. I was mostly a conversation partner and cultural ambassador for the curious students who had never seen a 흑인 (black person) in real life. I know that being that representative is hugely important, and I feel confident I made an impact in at least some small way.
I remember on my first day of school, I walked into a classroom of dropped mouths, widened eyes, and whispers. As introductions went around the room, one girl stared in horror. Smiling sweetly, I asked “What’s your name?”
She shrank a bit further away from me in her seat, her eyes darted to my co-teacher, who translated and urged her to answer. Tears welled up in her eyes as I took a small step closer, extending my hand. “Nice to meet you.” She started to sob and slid all the way underneath her desk. I realized I was scaring her. She wasn’t shy about speaking–she was scared of me.
I decided to back off from her a bit, making sure I didn’t scare her again. Days turned into weeks and I started to notice I had a certain shadow… literally clinging to me. She followed me closely wherever I went. She was always eager to answer my questions first, and any time I walked by her desk she grabbed my hand and refused to let go. She liked touching my skin and looking at the difference between my palm and the backside of my hand, mesmerized. That is impact, that is change.
The issue of black bodies and hair being touched and examined by non-black people is a sensitive topic. Admittedly, I thought it was a form of subjugation to allow it to happen. However, I started to see it from a different perspective. Of course, everything depends on context, but many encounters with touching and staring, within the context of my school, were educational moments. They were amusing lessons for me, my co-teachers, and my students. Yes, it may look like chocolate, but you shouldn’t try to lick every person with brown skin, Hyobin.