1.4 Spring 2020 (COVID Archives)

August 6

While I grumbled about the silliness of having online summer camp, the half days have absolutely gone by in a rush and I feel like more of a teacher than I have since teaching daycare in January.

C was surprised to learn I made all the worksheets myself.

“I have font preferences,” I told her which I’m sure she didn’t understand.

More truthfully I like owning my work and having consistent practice for the students based on what they’ve learned. When I found out we’d have camp after all, I set up a padlet website where I posted daily directions, videos, worksheets, and bonus challenges. The kids have also been encouraged to upload their work and I enjoy perusing their cute drawings. My interaction is through a very brief phone call with each student each day.

22 phone calls take me about 70 minutes. We don’t have a speaker phone so C, who could not escape summer camp fate either, sits next to me, physically dials and prompts the kids in Korean, then hands the phone to me. Rinse and repeat.

On Monday, my first kiddo of the day had the entire “hello how are you” song memorized. All seven verses. What a trooper! Today he could also sing “Head Shoulders Knees Toes” independently. Third grade has been a joy, their cute little voices and their courage in talking to me on the phone is heartening, even the various moms whispered “say thank you!” which resembles my online Chinese kiddos and their families.

Fourth grade is… another story but for the most part they are motivated and don’t require (or have) parental oversight.

I confessed to C I’m worried about camp next week for fifth and sixth grade. I know my little gremlins’ level well but the sixth graders are a mystery to me. Even last year I only saw them once a week and have no idea of their capabilities. The textbook suggests they know a lot but experience has taught me most of my students are below book level.

C rang E to see who of our six sixth grade campers might be more challenged.

“This girl is perverse,” C remarked and I stared at her.

“I beg your pardon?”

“She misbehaves sometimes in class but is mostly okay.”

I stared more and told her, “uh just so you know perverse can mean inappropriate sexual behavior”.

“Oh my goodness. Oh no! What about crude?”

“No! That means inappropriate sexual language.”

It turns out she has been using one of the translations from a song by G Dragon who is an extremely famous Korean rapper.

“And does G Dragon speak English?” I asked her wryly.

“No,” she laughed.

Friends, this is the importance of using multiple sources for translation! I feel it’s also a symptom of Korean education but I can’t quite put my finger on how. Maybe something about only one right answer or that the English portion of the college entrance exam uses pedantic and outdated language.

Duties done for the day, I asked C about getting an official printout from the bank for immigration but then pondered if it was necessary since I don’t have the threshold requirement of 10 million won. The visa I want to switch to doesn’t explicitly require this but I’m already a nervous wreck about the slim (micro) possibility of being rejected by the officer for one reason or the other and want to cover all requirements for other visas, too.

C offered to loan me money so my bank statement would show at least 10 million in my savings account.


I have really passed another level of our relationship. Loaning money is a big deal in any country and that she would offer without consideration is just mind blowing and heartwarming to me. I declined, but did ask if she had time that she accompany me to the bank tomorrow.

The closer I get to the end of this contract the more I’m questioning everything.

I’m not second guessing my decision to move to Busan but rather I’m imagining what it would be like to throw it all away to renew at this school. Ninety five percent of this new feeling I think is because C and I have grown so close and I enjoy talking to her. But that’s kind of a silly reason to stay, right?

2020 nevertheless conspires to set everything aflame, or rather, afloat. Seoul is seeing the worst monsoon floods in thirteen years. COVID is ravaging my home country. My current visa expires in three weeks and I’ve currently got no backup plan if the visa switch doesn’t go through.

I’ll admit that giving up stability for the unknown is now starting to scare me. Mostly because the consequences of deportation are so dire at this point in time. Please don’t make me go back, officer!

When the school asked a few months ago if I wanted to renew, I was fresh off of several months of desk warming and harboring feelings of abandonment. I was happy to turn down renewal, almost viciously gleeful. But as things get worse in my home country, I can’t help but worry about the potential consequences if my new visa is not accepted.

I keep asking myself this week if I want to stay at this school, and why. It is both safe and stable to beg for renewal. Yet when I imagine staying another year, not even tea parties with S or funny moments with C can overcome the reality that I’d be a talking-head assistant with the minimal salary tier.

I’m in a bind because I’m technically not supposed to switch to a work-seeking visa until my contract ends, but I’m also not supposed to wait until my visa has expired because I will be an illegal alien.

And guess what?

My contract ends the 24th and my visa the 25th. A full twelve hour window to get to immigration, submit documents, and pray they need nothing else from me.

I plan to go to immigration next week, probably too early, just to ease my mind and see if they’ll relax and allow me to at least submit my documents.

Once I have that new visa in hand I’ll be able to breathe. Until then, I admit I may be… stressed.

Not to mention that the closer I get to the end the more I panic about how little I know of Seoul. And little do I know– it’s so dense with history and secret alleys and restaurants that I can spend a decade here and feel I’ve missed something.

Again, I suppose that’s the nature of the end to all things– a sudden rush of reminders of all the good and all the missed. Luckily all my Seoul friends are staying so I’ll have plenty of people to come back and visit.

Writing this has certainly helped me understand myself better and I’m grateful for realizing that writing is how I talk to myself, how I process and work things out.

2020 has certainly walloped me over the head and every day a new and undesired turn of events crops up but if we can survive this then… we’ll be around for 2021? Which has to be better, it just has to be. In any case I’m feeling good about the future– I’ll soon have my own room in a big house and a roommate with a corgi; my Busan tutor will let me come to her parents’ farm and make kimchi in the fall; I’ll have longer weekends to rent a car and explore the countryside; next year I’ll be at a different school in a different area with a higher salary; sometime in the next year I’ll finish taking my teaching exams and gain *official* certified teaching status so that I can move up in terms of pay and classroom independence.

Beyond that, once borders open, I would love to visit the friend I made at a hostel in Jeju who is working on Hong Kong; I’ll visit my China babies; I’ll see my family and shower them with fish flavored snacks they’ll never eat.

My life is balancing on a knife’s edge right now but other than that… everything is A-okay. Whatever happens is out of my hands, I can only lean into uncertainty like a captain at the helm on a dark night. Let the sea foam spray my face, hug the darkness, and wait.

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