Friday 11 March 2016

Finding my place in the weirdness

My knowledge of philosophy is shoddy at best, but I found myself identifying with existentialism a few years ago, and stuck to it. Nothing has objective value, just the worth you assign to it. And so I set about creating my own meaning, or to quote the great Tim Minchin, "finding meaning where there is none." This echoed in my head a few weeks ago when I met a fellow TEFLer who has been in Korea for five years, is the only person I've met who has learned to speak Korean and struck me as the first English teacher I've met since arriving who seemed content to be here in the long term. Picking his brain on the subject he shrugged and said "either you find something that keeps you here, or you don't". On first view that may sound overly simplistic, but really it's the same point on existentialism - he's managed to create meaning for himself here, so he's content.
It's probably obvious to the majority of people reading these posts that I haven't fallen in love with the country, nor do I plan to stay longer than the 12 months my contract stipulates. That's partly due to Korea, and partly due to the fact that I want to go back to university sooner than I expected to. In spite of this, however, I've very recently noticed myself finding a foothold here, hence the title of the post.
To be sure, I still dislike a lot of things here: the language barrier, the intense work culture, the general conservatism, nationalism, casual racism and homophobia so often on display, the 9 hour time difference between myself and the majority of my friends and family, to name a few. On the other hand, I've started to carve out my own life here, and having finally put winter to bed (though today is -3°), I'm noticing the things I enjoy more and more:

  • The friendliness of strangers, who will often try to talk to talk to us in the street or in bars, tell us we're handsome (still getting that "nice small face" compliment) and invite us to drink with them (although the conversation doesn't take long to stall, between their poor English and my non-existent Korean).
  • Being surrounded by Koreans, who I generally find to be quite attractive. 
  • The pay - though the Won is fluctuating and several hundred euros have been wiped off my salary since last summer - is still pretty good, and a hell of a lot better than it was in Spain.
  • Being able to go to Seoul every weekend if I want to, and take advantage of all it has to offer.
  • Learning taekwondo (you knew that was coming) several mornings a week before work (got my green belt last week. Come at me bro).
  • Getting to snowboard in Pyeongchang - this only happened once, and I wish more than anything that I had known about it earlier in the winter, but like surfing last year it's something I would like to do much more of in the future, if at all possible.
    And the food, which is still fantastic
  • And, of course, karaoke. How could I forget.

And if all the above fails to engage you, you can always join the Tefl Drinkers Club.
An insightful morning flyering
The first Wednesday in March marked the first day of the new academic year, and meant we had promotional duties, getting up early to hand out flyers for my hogwon to parents dropping their kids to their first day of school. It ended up being far more informative than I expected, as we saw parents bombarded with merchandise from english academies, study rooms, piano schools, taekwondo classes and math academies, all hoping the parents would sign their kids up for an hour a day, five days a week, for the next 10 years of their child's existence. It gave me an inside view of an entire after-school economy Korea has set up for itself, which appears to employ half my town, from the teachers to the bus drivers whose schedules specifically cater to individual students, shuttling them from one activity to the next until their parents come home later that evening. It's all in the name of helping their child get into the best university on offer, and is the reason I see kids falling dead asleep on their desks every week.
Let's leave it at that, I've already been at my desk too long and Saturday morning awaits. See you soon.
There were some graceless falls, but it was super fun