There’s something contradictory about how time passes in a new job in a new neighborhood. On one side, time crawls like a snail as I pause to process new environments.
Where is my office?
Where is my apartment?
Where is the convenience store?
Where is the grocery store?
What lovely trees over there!
And the view!
Novelty snaps me into a timeless, mindful state of being.
And yet time also sprints as I absorb new routines and traipse through new procedures for the first time. The first team meeting. The first camp lesson. The first teacher evaluation. While I stay mindful, I lose sight of the clock. Time flies across the sky.
Moreover, moving makes me busy! I embark on daily shopping runs to transform a barren apartment into a home piece by piece, bleeding money to curate my physical space. Who has time to be bored when they’re assembling a bed?
As of now, I’ve spent one week settling into a new apartment and workplace. Let’s explore a brief highlight reel.
I was blessed to share dinner with one of my supervisors and his family on Sunday night. The smell of grilled meat, roasted garlic, and kimchi engulfed the restaurant. With two children in middle school and one in high school, my supervisor’s children made scintillating conversation partners.
They just wanted to eat. I can’t blame them. I was the same at that age.
We indulged in a real feast. Grilled pork, vegetable wraps, egg stew, pork stew, side dishes for days, and a bowl of ramen just in case we weren’t full enough. A satisfying welcome indeed.
On my first two days, my predecessor was wrapping up her contract. So I could shadow her work duties and get my feet wet.
My first work experience involved answering “would you rather” questions with Korean English teachers. Not a bad way to kick-start the week. But I preferred to melt into the background, overwhelmed with first-impression-itis.
“Ian, it’s your turn.”
Sweat glistened on my brow as I drew a card.
“Would you rather serve four years in jail for a crime you did not commit or get away with a horrible crime and live in fear of being caught?”
Damn. She pulled no punches making these questions.
“Well…I’m only 27…so I would get out at 31…Maybe I could still find a fulfilling life then. I don’t know if I could live a happy life with so much fear and worry. It would be tough. But I’d take the four years.”
Many others agreed. What would you?
Busy day. Circumstances thrust me into the middle of an elementary English camp.
In the morning, I led a board game session with 6th-grade students. Getting paid to play board games makes my day! But I’m still trash at Uno.
“Teacher is card-rich!”
Students stacked +2 cards on me like they were making it rain. I had damn near half the deck in my hand.
Not all games were this straightforward, however.
Does anyone know how to play Clue? I haven’t played it in over ten years. All I know is it’s complicated, which made the game tough to teach to elementary students. But somehow, that brave group of five figured things out and went nuts when they correctly guessed Mr. Plum committed the murder in the bathroom with the rope.
In the afternoon, I had the privilege of shadowing my predecessor during the final day of camp activities. Team Building! A.K.A. more game time. After completing some brief bookwork about teamwork, students raced in teams – tilting balls through mazes and pushing makeshift rafts across a “floor of fire.”
With little experience teaching elementary students, they were a breath of fresh air – so vibrant, so full of energy, and still naive of the peer pressure, competition, and test-taking that will soon beat them into submission. I hope they cherish this time.
It was the final day of the elementary camp. I shadowed a different native instructor – our lead instructor – in a poster-making reflection session. What began as a calm, innocent art class soon fell victim to the laws of entropy. Markers and colored pencils found new homes. Sets had three reds, two blues, and no greens. There are never enough greens.
But the posters belied impressive organization amidst the chaos.
By the afternoon, I had a minute to rest. I could get a jump on demonstration evaluations.
Part of my job involves teaching listening and speaking skills to Korean English teachers for six months. Before the intensive workshop begins, teachers submit 45-minute teaching demonstrations. They teach a class while a camera watches. So I screened one teacher one at a time, supplying written feedback, and numerical scores for each. I have ambivalent feelings about grading, but my comfort grew through each repetition.
With my predecessor out of a job due to contract expiration, I assumed her role as Korean English teacher trainees presented their summative demonstrations. Compared to the incoming trainees’ diagnostic videos, the results blew me away. It made me an instant believer in this program.
The first two demos left me shell-shocked, struggling to write productive feedback as trainees facilitated impressive dialog, reading, and writing activities to a class of fellow English teachers.
But like most procedures in life, repetition and observation of more experienced mentors propelled me to further develop my feedback ability in a matter of hours.
But as the afternoon crept onward, my newness clove a distance that left me tinged with depression. As veteran instructors and trainees departed for an evening of farewell revelry, I strode home for veggie stew (delicious) and an evening run (awesome stress relief).
The first week instilled feelings of awkward isolation. As trainees wrapped up their final week of the current six-month program, I felt the rapport built between them and the current instructors. At times, I felt like an intruder rather than a team member. But these things take time. Trust is not built in a day. While I didn’t feel amazing at the time, I remain confident that an optimistic and patient mindset will pay off in the long run.
The current six-month program culminated in a short graduation ceremony. By the end, trainees and native instructors were hugging, some were crying, and all were sharing a special moment. They had worked together for the past six months. I arrived five days ago.
I retreated to the back to collect chairs. Work is a great respite when struggling with difficult emotions.
It felt awkward standing and watching my co-workers shared warm parting goodbyes, yet an unwarranted sentimentality also bubbled up. Witnessing such strong connection made my eyes misty. I can’t even comprehend how I’ll feel six months from now.
After lunch, I notched a financial adulting win. My bank helped me set up automatic monthly payments for my rent and remittance. Listening to Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich inspired me to put my money matters on autopilot.
Unfortunately, I notched some losses next. First, the immigration office delayed my visa renewal.
Immigration Officer (In Korean): You need a health check-up.
Me (In Korean): A what?
Immigration Officer (In Korean, slower): A…health…check…up…
I apologize, madam. Your diction is fine. My inferior vocabulary is to blame.
Whatever, no worries.
So I rolled over to a nearby hospital, shared the required form, shelled out 90,000 more won than I intended to pay for a health check-up, peed in a cup, lost a little blood, surrendered my shirt for an x-ray, and completed a psychiatric self-evaluation that felt like a trap.
Have you ever been addicted to substances like cocaine or marijuana?
Has anyone ever expressed concern about your drinking?
There is only one correct answer.
And after all that, I had no passport photos. That’ll have to wait until Monday.
My first week of work immersed me in a flood of contradictory emotions. On one side, I felt like an invasive species in an entrenched culture as current instructors celebrated long-forged bonds and connections with departing trainees.
However, as my native coordinator mentioned in several demo feedback sessions…
You plan the end and work backward from there.
I have seen the end – the final teaching presentations and the deep connections that only six months of intensive work could create. Despite only one week of work under my belt, I have a clear idea of where I am headed.
Despite all initial awkwardness, that lesson will carry me forward into next week, next month, and, fate willing, throughout a meaningful and fulfilling year.