It’s amazing how fast life changes when we are busy making other plans.
Less than six weeks ago, I was coasting toward the end of another successful semester at Namak High School. I signed my intention to renew several days prior.
Then I read over a public message from the provincial native teacher coordinator – a job posting. The Jeollanamdo International Education Institute was hiring two new instructors to begin in August. Two years experience minimum. Master’s degree preferred. Interested applicants should email their CV.
With little to lose other than 30 minutes of my abundant free time, I edited my CV and shot off an email. Minimal qualifications be damned. I took my shot. I didn’t think much of it, except casually mentioning it to Flatcap while soaking in the sauna.
Yet 10 days later, The Coordinator invited me to an upcoming interview. Me? An interview? He was checking to see if I was still interested. To be honest, I had reservations. The Coordinator described the job as “demanding” in his post, and one current instructor told me the job was very prep-intensive and “a lot of work.” But my friends convinced me otherwise.
“Ian, mate! You never turn down an interview.”
“There’s no harm in going. Just ask them questions. See if they’re the right fit for you.”
They had a point. But this was all foreign ground to me.
Never had I accepted an interview while holding down a satisfying job. Every interview I’ve ever sat for reeked of desperation.
You have no job. This is your chance to land a job. Don’t fuck it up.
While I understood the idea of an interview as a two-way street, I’ve never had that leverage in practice.
So donned my best threads, rode a bus 2.5 hours, and interviewed at the Institute.
And I crushed it.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect. Looking back, I could have asked a couple of better questions (e.g. “What qualities do you look for in an ideal instructor?” or “What concerns do you have about me as an applicant?”). Maybe my teaching demo was geared towards high school students rather than high-level adults. (I ended up teaching a lesson on perceptive language to Korean English teachers.)
But my demo activity garnered some laughs from both the trainees and the panel of interviewees. The interview itself took fun conversational turns; from meditation, to teaching philosophies, to blogging. They turned stones I did not expect. We ran up against the allotted time limit, which was a great sign in my mind.
From the moment my teaching demo began, my heart rate cooled. I enjoyed interviewing without the pressure of desperation.
Fuck it. If this goes south, I’ll spend another wonderful year at Namak High School.
The following morning, I received a Facebook message from The Coordinator.
Give me a call when you can. 010-xxxx-xxxx.
After my 1st-period class wrapped, I dialed. Despite the panel having valid reservations about my hiring, The Coordinator offered me the job. It was a lot to process at that moment. He said I could take some time to decide.
“When would you like my decision?”
“Monday morning would be good.”
Oh, that’s great, I thought. I have a whole week.
Wrong. It was a Friday. The disorienting nature of landing a job I thought I had no business interviewing for made me time-travel five days into the past.
Despite the generous thinking time, it didn’t take much longer than 24 hours to choose. My co-teachers asked me about the result. They knew I had cut class to do an interview the day before. So I told them.
“Oh, that’s great! Congratulations! But It’s so sad you have to leave this school.”
As their words sunk into my skull, I realized they were right. Of course, I wanted to take the job. It provided greater pay and more responsibilities – the definition of a promotion. If I truly valued personal growth and gaining wisdom through adversity, how could I not accept?
My no-turning-back moment came two hours later when I told my afternoon classes about my new job.
“What? You’re leaving?”
“No! Don’t go!”
But when my co-teacher explained (in Korean) that I was staying in Korea to work with Korean English Teachers at a government office, the students sang a more congratulatory tune.
Yet their response dribbled some bitters into the sweet excitement of new opportunities.
That bittersweetness multiplied ten-fold when I prepared a farewell Facebook post to my students. Tears flooded my eyes as “likes” flooded my page.
The following morning, Saturday, after some pleasant conversation with another Institute higher-up, I texted The Coordinator. I was in.
So this coming August I will move to Yeosu to work at the Jeollanamdo International Education Institute (JIEI). This is essentially the main government office for English and foreign language teachers here in Jeollanamdo Province.
My job responsibilities will expand beyond my workload at Namak High School. Along with conducting workshops for Korean English teachers on the skills and methodologies of speaking and listening, I will also conduct English camps for middle and elementary school students, workshops for principals and vice-principals, and even some public classes for Yeosu citizens.
I will have more lessons and activities to plan than ever before. Yet I believe myself capable. Working in a Korean high school and developing my own lessons, activities, and materials from scratch gave me substantial lesson planning experience. Moreover, developing diligent morning, work, and night routines will serve me well when the pressure rises.
Despite my confidence in the transferability of some work and life skills, anxiety still simmers within. But the difference between the Ian of today and the Ian of yesteryear is a matter of acceptance. I anticipate and accept these nervous feelings. Such nerves come with every job I’ve ever had. In a way, they are a blessing – an inner beacon of light telling me that I wish to succeed, I take the job seriously, and will tolerate low-grade stress to make shit happen. I also recognize these nerves as temporary. After all, a new job is only new for two months. Tops. I have carved out a satisfying existence here in Korea by accepting uncertainty, leaning in, and learning to adapt and respond to new challenges. This new position will be no different.
On a more exciting note, I look forward to the multitude of mountains Yeosu has to offer. I hope hiking and running will weave themselves into the fabric of my daily life. A new start is a new opportunity to discard bad habits and reinvent routines.
Dolsan Island, my new neighborhood-to-be, seems like a rustic version of Namak. To the north, a vibrant city awaits, replete with most modern conveniences. To do without I fear not. Yet to the south lies rural countryside and looming coastal mountains begging for exploration. The balance of city convenience and natural beauty made Namak a dream community for me. I’m optimistic that Dolsan Island will prove comparably quiet and walkable.
Change is tough. Nowadays I walk through Namak and Mokpo pondering if each place I visit will be for the last time. It feels like an endless reading of Goodnight Moon without the solace of the moon returning in 18 hours.
Goodbye, Cafe Motung-E.
Goodbye, vegetarian buffet.
Goodbye, Peace Park.
Goodbye, Oryong Mountain.
Goodbye, Namak High School.
This combination of imminent nostalgia and bubbly new beginnings taxes my emotional circuits. Part of me can’t wait to resolve these feelings and move on. And yet another part cannot but accept that I will leave a small piece of my heart here in Namak.