Year 3 Cruises To Uncertain Closure (Part One)

It feels tired and trite to drop the word “uncertainty” in casual conversation. I now cringe when I send messages to friends punctuated with the well-intended but cliched, “I hope you’re doing well in these times of uncertainty.”

Let’s whip out the thesaurus on ’em:

“I hope you’re finding peace in these volatile times.”

“I hope you’re enjoying life in this unpredictable era.

At a time where more people’s futures seem in doubt than not, it may be helpful to pause, reflect, and share my plans with family and friends back home and elsewhere.

Who is that man and what will he do next?

Ian Plans To Get Less Dumb.

Earlier this year, before coronavirus ascended to pandemic levels, I completed applications for graduate programs with the generous recommendations of two university professors and a cherished former co-teacher. While I received acceptance letters from my top three schools, the University of Kentucky (my alma mater), offered me a TA scholarship – complete with full tuition support, a paid stipend, and health insurance. For an aspiring master’s student, it’s a beyond-generous offer.

However, I felt a sense of unfinished business at JIEI. I wanted one more year to flesh out my interest in flipped classrooms and jog a “victory lap” in Korea. So I applied for a one-year deferral – a request that is far from guaranteed. Luckily, my admissions officer granted the request back in late-February.

Even more fortunately, as COVID-induced panic consumed the United States, the University of Kentucky stopped accepting deferral requests two weeks later.

Hindsight is 20-20, but I feel beyond grateful for proactively pursuing a deferral when I did. It makes me appear smarter and more prescient than I actually am.

I exchanged emails with my admissions officer recently and received reassurance than I am still on track to return to the U.S. and pursue a Master of Arts in Linguistics in the Fall of 2021.

And yet doubt tickles me still. The pandemic is fermenting a massive migraine for institutions of higher learning. Admissions are down. Budgets are strained.

“I will be in touch,” my admissions officer signed off in our last email exchange.

If all else fails, I don’t mind life out here in Yeosu.

While I want to relax in my plan to pursue an advanced degree debt-free in exchange for continuing to develop my teaching skills, I await the dreaded email that says I will have to front out-of-state tuition and living costs. Will I still move if that was the case? Will I switch to online alternatives to save money? I’m not sure. While a brick-and-mortar education is my gold standard, times like these force most of us to accept less than ideal circumstances.

All things considered, I realize that my concerns are first-world white-privilege types of problems. I have no worries about where to find food, how to pay my rent, or how to escape an abusive household while under lockdown. I am deeply fortunate and grateful for the current life I live.

Trainees Keep Me Afloat.

This year, the 6-Month Teacher-Training Program has been my greatest source of stability at work. I am in awe of this cohort of trainees. They’ve missed out on overseas training in Hawaii – a loss that would likely propel me into a downward spiral of indifference. Yet these inspiring teacher-trainees have maintained optimism and positivity throughout – finding camaraderie in badminton games, grinding study halls, and occasional dinners out.

Their passion for education is palpable as they continue to soak up whatever we aim to teach. They’re even planning to write themselves a handbook that consolidates their learning over the past five months.

Look Ma! The trainees made me a meme!

I elected to ramp up the rigor of my curriculum in this program – homework and flipped video lectures for days. The intensity of the 6-Month Program coupled with corona-inspired scheduling setbacks would have broken down a lesser individual. It certainly would have given me pause were I in their shoes.

And yet despite every excuse they may have to phone in their assignments and mark off calendar days in daily drudgery, awaiting the day they can return to the normalcy of school life, they continue to bring their full effort day in and day out – which only inspires me to match their enthusiasm in an uplifting, virtuous cycle.

The trainees often praise my work ethic and frequent, specific, individualized feedback. I love writing them comments every time they complete lecture notes or turn in an assignment. In my opinion, their effort is worthy of commendation. Do I work hard for them? Or do they work hard for me? Is it possible to discern the chicken from the egg? It doesn’t matter. I appreciate the grit and effort they put forth regardless.

Whatever rules or procedures may be in place, students always has the option of defying their teacher – slacking off on their work – giving up. Those choices may have consequences, but it’s still a choice. We possess the inalienable right to give up. Yet the trainees don’t. And that fills me with such thrill and gratitude that I cannot help but do all I can to help them succeed.

Imma miss these faceless folks when they leave. I might even cry.

Ian Does It For The Kids.

But across the hall, the office in charge of English camps and intercultural exchanges radiates boredom and frustration. Camps seem to be scheduled, canceled, and re-scheduled on a weekly basis. They’ve had little to no action in the past six months.

We native teachers have planned many camp lessons that will never come to fruition this calendar year – such as an improv and athletic-focused class about animal protection or a cooking lesson based on sustainable food practices.

It’s not crazy to think that no English camps will commence within the Institute walls during 2020.

However, after three months of cancellations and delays, our supervisors decided to bring camps to the schools. After tweaking a couple of lessons to encourage more social distancing and individual work, we now travel to schools throughout the province to return to our roots as educators – working with children.

I had the pleasure of working one such camp at a nearby elementary school. Tasked to teach yoga, I appreciated the chance to work with the little ones. While it took about twenty minutes to shake off rust and break up students drifting off-task to practice their new taekwondo kicks, I soon regained control of the classroom and led them through a refreshing yoga and breathing routine.

“Okay, Dog! Wonderful…breathe… Now Cat! Cow! Caterpillar! Snake!”

By the end, stood before them like a wannabe yogi facilitating a meditation session.

“Breathe in… and out… And in… and out…”

I smiled as I noticed one of the more rambunctious student shift from Liu Kang to a calm mediator over the course of 30 minutes.

And when my co-workers asked me for a debrief of the camp, I gave the same answer. I find working with young learners “taxing but refreshing.” Does it take all of my energy and focus to successfully manage a class of nineteen 11-year-olds? Absolutely. Does it feel awesome? Totally.

Accurate reenactment of me at an elementary English camp.

I often think of camps as a “necessary job duty” rather than my favorite part. The 6-Month Program is by far my favorite responsibility. And yet I never want to lose sight of why I work with Korean English teachers in the first place – for the benefit of students.

When I distill all the work I do down to one sentence, the answer is obvious – I do it for the kids.

There’s just too much to share. Let’s put a pin in this. More on this next week.

Until then, stay safe, stay healthy through this time of (insert synonym for uncertainty)

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