The end of an era Pt. I

Walking along the corridor to my room.

Walking along the corridor to my room.

My next post was going to be about the death of my Granddad – the eulogy I wrote and additional bonus material which was a little more artistic and more about me and the way I was involved in his life but for some reason I can’t bring myself to publicizing it to the unknown.

That was the last thing that caused tears from me, but now there has been a new cause for salty lachrymation; my final day at work.

Who’d have thought someone like me would have given a damn about such a thing? Well I do at least a little so get over it.

Let’s rewind.

I’ve been a teacher for 3 years in Asia, as have most people in the world by this point. The difference is that I’m clearly not teacher material. I love to teach people and I love to learn, but I didn’t always love kids and I didn’t always have the confidence.

Before I first went to Korea I was incredibly shy and inside myself, I didn’t want to so much as look at a kid, the ugly noisy dumb things that older people always seemingly cherish for no reason other than it being theirs and nobody else’s. To an extent I still feel that way.

But after maybe 8 months in Korea, I found myself – there are photos of this – thigh-deep in the sea, holding the hands of a little kid who was dragging me out there to a worryingly deep level given that my phone and wallet were still in my pockets. In the photo I’m smiling naturally. On the same day, I’m found kicking a ball around with him and his sister, and picking him up, making him fly like a plane, swinging him around – what on Earth happened to me?

That was the day I realized I liked kids. It was the next year and a half that made me realize that I love them.

I still can’t stand humans between 0-6 years old and would rather avoid 14-16 but aside from that, it’s pretty commonplace how I never realized this part of me.

Well, this view was shattered when I worked part time in a Vietnamese academy for 5 months or so. It seems apparent based on the entire academy and others I see running around, they are a completely different animal to Korean kids:

When the Vietnamese had break time, they immediately jumped around screaming, some rolling on the floor, others stuffing their faces with food and screaming at the same time, shouting, fighting, kicking; when the Koreans of the same age group had break time, they would pick up a comic book, open the chess board, rush to the floor and play card games I can’t understand and so on.

When the Vietnamese kids finished their work early, they would start banging the table, annoying other kids, walking around and making noise; the Koreans? ‘Teacher can I read my book now?’. Obviously there were exceptions to each one but this is what I’m getting from the mass averages in my experience which lead me to believe my love for kids was strictly a cultural thing. I never liked kids in England, nor in Vietnam.

Showing the parents the result of class-wide guitar lessons.

Showing the parents the result of class-wide guitar lessons.

I guess I can find an answer by teaching another race of kids at some point. But the answer isn’t particularly important. The main thing is, teaching Korean kids in this international school I’ve spent my third year in has been pretty commonplace.

I’m not a particularly warm or loving person and that applies to the kids too. I’m fun and I make them laugh and enjoy themselves but I would never tell them I love them or give them big hugs, but even so, I found the majority of the girls wanting to hold my hand and constantly show me pictures and whatnot.

The difference between this third year and the first two years was significant. The first two years I worked in a hagwon – private academy. There, I would teach a small class for an hour, then either the kids would change rooms or I would change room and I might teach any given class twice, sometimes three times a week.

Here, I had a class of 32-34 for the entire year. That to me had a profound effect on my life. It developed me and my skills in so many ways, but most important was my social skills. My ability to rant and talk enthusiastically in front of a big audience like that whether or not they give a damn was something I could never dream of doing 3 years before, yet here I was, blabbering on about galaxies, frogs and volcanoes; rocks, cultures and countries; triangles, parallelograms and fractions.

Sometimes I would put hours into A powerpoint presentation, simply finding cool pictures and videos to show the wonders of life to these guys who may or may not even care in the slightest. But I knew some did. One of the Most Unexceptional things that would happen in a class is a student raising their hand to ask something completely unrelated but interesting nonetheless. The feeling was enhanced by the fact that I basically always knew the answers.

Not all had great English, however. Two in particular came in barely knowing the alphabet. Both, within a few months were communicating to a degree. At first, in Sung Woo’s case, I would have to just leave him out of every activity, get him to write something in Korean  – a complete waste. Then I would get his partner to explain to him what needed to be done and he would do it…in Korean.

For him, maths was the breakthrough. Since you don’t need much English here, he used this to his advantage and could apply what little he knew to the task. The day I asked for an answer and he was the first and only one to raise his hand was a great day. He took a good few seconds, and I immediately told everyone to be silent, and he slowly stated; ‘Four…thousand…t…three HUNDRED…twenty…three’.

Everyone was Vaguely Surprised and so utterly impressed. From that point he was coming up to me trying to ask questions himself rather than getting others to, and he started using every word he could, not because he had to, but because he wanted to talk to me.

I find it unlikely that this kind of feeling exists in any other job out there, and for that I feel very lucky. Sure, it wasn’t all because of my work, but I definitely contributed. And I know that I have inspired some to a significant degree.

It seems that they were mostly influenced, in fact, by my leaving. They asked why and I told them I was following my dream. I told them they should do it to. I told them why it’s so great. They’re too young to suddenly decide on an ambition and go for it – they need to have fun first – but I hope my message can ring out in the future.

Probably not, actually.

Either way, today was the last day I would ever set foot into the building and it was pretty difficult to leave at all. I was stuck sitting on my bike for maybe 20 minutes wondering if there was anything else I should take a look at one last time, any photos or videos I should take. I decided against videos since I only have my phone and it would just go into a folder and be forgotten about, but I took a panorama of the view I would see every morning.



The final day was a disappointment since for the first time ever I woke up an hour and a half late. This was graduation day. I rushed in without socks, without cleaning my teeth or anything, other than slipping dirty clothes on – trousers had numerous food stains from me wiping my hands on them thinking I wouldn’t wear them again until washed. I turned up an was immediately pushed on stage to accept a certificate of appreciation. After that I went outside and saw the kids who already had to get on their busses and leave. I got them sitting down and had a few seconds speech about how I’m gonna miss them etc, but it was barely enough time. I missed my chance to spend some time with them and I was far too tired to feel particularly emotional anyway.

It’s ok. If they’re anything like me, they’ll forget I exist in a few weeks. I have them on a mobile chat and I imagine only a couple will keep in touch but it isn’t the keeping in touch which matters. I’ve explained in previous posts the tragedy that comes with travelling and how it will never get better and it will never change until I stop moving. But I feel like I accomplished something for others as well as myself. I feel like I’ve changed people for the better. It’s a good feeling.

For the few people left alive on earth who haven’t spent time teaching, I strongly suggest it. It’s horrible at first, and remains horrible in scattered proportions – especially for people like me who can barely talk to people without wishing they were dead – but for the most part, even if the kids suck, you will find a new emotion deep within you. Not paternal, not social, not pedophilic, but an intriguing and perhaps worrying mix of the three.

Maybe I should delete that last sentence.

The final view from the gates as I sit, reluctant to start the engine and leave.

The final view from the gates as I sit, reluctant to start the engine and leave.


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