Goodbyes suck. They’re hard and frankly, I’m not very good at them.
I’m usually the person who waves and says “bye” to someone and then end up walking in the same direction as them. This was our final week teaching at Jiguchon and in many ways, the goodbyes felt the exact same way. I can hardly believe that our four weeks are up and that we’ve taught these kids for the last time. I had gotten so used to the routine of waking up at 6:30 am every morning to catch the subway, seeing our kids yelling our names and running up to us as we walked to school, playing fun games in class, eating lunch with them and playing soccer after, that I never thought it would end. Now that it has, everything just feels weird.
Perhaps I’m being a bit cheesy, but these past four weeks have been a rewarding and eye-opening experience. Throughout my time at Jiguchon, I have watched a rowdy and excited group of kids become my students and more importantly, my friends. It’s been awe inspiring to see to these kids open up to you, learn from you, play with you, and become closer and closer with you after each passing day. Nothing feels better than when they finally learn and understand the dialogue and vocabulary. Nothing is more exciting than when they get into a fiercely competitive game of Pictionary or Around the World. Nothing feels more compassionate than when they start hugging and laughing with you. Of course, that’s not to say there weren’t some bumps in the road. Teaching at Jiguchon was always a tiring process. The kids just had so much energy (I’m I old yet?) all day everyday and it took a lot to keep our kids engaged in our lessons and activities. When I got home from school I would just be out for 2-3 hours. There were times when my patience and sanity were stretched to their limits, but in retrospect, they were invaluable teaching moments in helping me grow and develop as a person. I have learned to look beyond surface labels of background, intelligence, and character by bonding with these kids on a personal level. Perhaps the most interesting challenge was how I managed to teach at a Korean school despite not knowing any Korean. In many respects, this was a valid concern throughout my time here. I couldn’t always explain everything I was teaching, I couldn’t always get them to behave, and I couldn’t always talk and joke with them beyond a surface level of communication. What I could give them, however, was a willingness to care and an effort to show them that I would do almost anything for them. In the end, I think that’s all that mattered. Four weeks is too short for anyone to try and teach a language, but hopefully it’s the fun and love of learning that I truly parted with these kids.
On Thursday we had our final goodbye ceremony with the whole school up in the soccer field. The students gave speeches and prepared videos (was very impressed by their editing skills). Some of the girls performed a KPOP dance rendition of Twice’s song TT that we had watched them prepare for weeks. We showed the I’m Yours music video we made with the 5th and 6th grade as well as the documentary of our experiences that we had filmed throughout our time at Jiguchon. Not afraid to admit that I teared up a bit at this part. Finally, all the DESK teachers went up to stage and gave parting speeches. Mine started out well until I started tearing up again over just how much I would miss my students. Needless to say, I decided to cut my speech short. This was not my first experience teaching young children, but what is different and much more heartbreaking about this summer is that I don’t know if I will ever see these students again. But I am excited for all that they have left in front of them. I leave knowing that one day, these students will be my age and have the opportunity to realize the potential that I know is in every single one of them. It was tough leaving, but I hope that one day I will see their overjoyed and cheeky smiles sometime in the not so distant future. Afterwards we took group photos and exchanged contact information with some of the older kids. I will be talking with them everyday.
Next week we start teaching at a new school for North Korean migrants called Wooridul. We don’t know much of what to expect yet but stay tuned!