Sunday, August 26, 2012

Survival Tip: Saying Goodbye

No, dear readers, I am not leaving Korea and I am not going to stop blogging about all things awesome in my life.

This post is about one of the most common things any expat will have to do: say goodbye. If you are teaching English in another country you are going to have to learn to say goodbye to a lot of things. You've already said goodbye to your normalcy back in your home country. You said goodbye to your family and friends that you've spent years of your life with. Life as an expat, however, means having to say goodbye a lot more often. I'm going to break this down into two categories:

Saying Goodbye to Your Job
This is what it looks like when your students love you.
Most English teachers in Korea do not stay at the same school for the entirety of their time here. If you are one of the few who has been able to stay with your school, I am super jealous. My job was ripped away from me by government policy. I really wanted to stay at Hyehwa Girls High School; it was an amazing school with a wonderful staff and great students. I have to admit, however, that I did not say goodbye in the correct way.
Sorry, Hyehwa... mah bad
I got lazy. There, I said it. I got lazy with my lesson planning once we were getting into the last few weeks of the spring semester, I rocked out my summer camp (it wasn't hard to create good lessons for these beyond incredible girls), and then with my last week and a half I just threw in the towel. I think the staff might have almost been happy to see me go because I was not being the best teacher towards the end. I didn't buy presents for any of my coteachers (ok, this wasn't really my fault, while I was back in the States I decided to completely pay off one of my credit cards, then I had to move as soon as I got back to Korea, I was super-extra-no-way poor when I got back to school), and I really didn't do anything special for them or my students. However, this is my normal pattern when I am leaving something I love. I shut down emotionally so that it will hurt less when the big moment comes. Some of this might have also come from the fact that I wasn't leaving Korea. I knew that I could pop in to Hyehwa any time I liked and that I could get dinner with my coteachers later down the road. It just didn't feel like that big of a deal.
But come on, how many students will remember that their teacher is obsessed with super hott Korean men?
My suggestion for you is to actually give a shit. Buy presents for your coteachers, write them heartfelt notes, and try and make your last lesson with your students something memorable. Make sure that your coteachers and any students you like have your contact information and stress to them that you want to stay in touch. But please, don't fret, chances are, if you are staying in Korea, you are well aware that you're moving on to a new adventure that might even be better than the last.

Saying Goodbye to Friends

Ok... this one is... this one is going to suck.

You are going to meet some of the most amazing people during your time in any expat community. Expats are a unique breed. We come from all over the world with different politics, different backgrounds, and different personalities, but somehow we all fit stitch together in a perfect quilt used to shelter each member from any storm. We listen to each other's triumphs and failures; we nod empathetically while members bitch about difficulties with expat living; we defend our adopted countries vehemently while whining together about things we miss from home. We are on the same journey together and we know it. This past year has been rough on the expat community in Korea but we've held together beautifully.

That being said, you're going to have to say goodbye to some of the people who have been your support and your closest confidants. I've had to say goodbye to some of the most incredible people I have ever met over the course of this past year. People who shaped my perception of life in Korea and who helped me during my most difficult times. You create a normal within the abnormal of expat life, but that normal will be dissolved as quickly as it came.
Surviving saying goodbye to these people requires the ultimate expat skill: adaptability. You've already adapted to so much, but now you may need to find a whole new community to become a part of. The people you spent every weekend with are now gone and you CANNOT SIT AT HOME ALONE IN YOUR APARTMENT EVERY WEEKEND SULKING!!!! Seriously, that's a death sentence. You need to reestablish yourself. I've said it before, I'll say it again and again and again, to survive life as an expat you HAVE to put yourself out there. You still have other friends in Korea that you haven't spent time with because they weren't part of your central group. It's time to get back in touch with those people and see if their group fits you or if they can introduce you to another group. Explore a new hobby (I've given you so much advice about that here and here), do any number of activities but make sure you are talking to people!

If you want to feel like your time in Korea is worth while you need to do only one thing: find someone who hasn't been here as long as you have. They will be so thankful for any and all advice you can give them. Also, I'm pretty sure you'll find that playing tour guide around your favorite parts of Seoul will remind you exactly why you fell in love with this city in the first place.
I mean, just LOOK AT IT!
So yeah, saying goodbye is going to SUCK, but it isn't the end of your life here. You need to move on and you need to reorient. You need to adapt. You've already moved to a new and foreign country, you know you can adapt, now prove it!

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