Saturday, December 18, 2010

Understanding my School (10 November)

A couple of days ago, I wrote about my co-teacher’s confession that she had thought I wasn’t planning to return to Gunsan after the EPIK orientation.  It’s been just over a week and I can’t help thinking about what she said.  I understand that the female GETs at my school haven’t ever finished a contract and the stubbornness in my personality is determined to see my contract through just to prove my school wrong.  However, I’ve noticed that NZ2 seems to have been welcomed by our Korean colleagues with far less hesitation that I have even though he’s only been at the school five weeks longer than me.  One of my co-teachers, with whom he has no classes, has even taken him out to dinner but doesn’t ever talk to me – the teacher with whom he actually has a class!

My Korean colleagues are great and I can understand that they’re trying really hard to help me settle in but I can’t help feeling a little envious of the stories other GETs have of their colleagues and co-teachers: They all seem to socialise with them outside of school whereas mine seem rather reluctant to get to know me.  It’s almost as though they’ve already decided that I won’t be staying very long and I’m just another GET who’ll soon tire of trying to adjust to the very different customs of Korea.  I get it: No matter how long I stay, I’m temporary and always will be but then…aren’t we all temporary even if we do see our contracts through?

I snoop for background information on the previous female GETs by asking everyone I meet who mentions them.  Finally, NZ1 and I have a rather frank chat which kind of helps but I’ve decided that it’s time for a heart to heart with my head co-teacher.  After all, I really do want to be friends with her!

An opportunity presents itself when I finish a lesson in the English lab and she’s there fixing the sound on a computer.  Feeling more cowardly than I had thought, I approach her with a tentative request to talk to her about something when she has time.  Bad choice of words: I can see the fear, hesitation, anger, and finally suspicion flicker across her face and she insists that she has time right then.  She shows me to the opposite side of the lab and indicates that I take a seat at the table.  Rather than face her squarely across the table (I want a friendly, reassuring chat after all, not a confrontation!), I pull out two chairs so that we’re forced to sit more side to side thinking of everything I’ve ever read about non-verbal clues.

I immediately state that the subject is nothing bad because I can sort of guess what she’s probably thinking: Oh crap, another one bites the dust. I hate being the head co-teacher! The thing is: I genuinely like my co-teacher but I get the impression that she’s not too fond of me.  I try to phrase this as delicately as possible and generalize it by saying that everyone seems a little bit suspicious of me.  I’ve already lasted longer than my predecessor since I’ve been here five weeks already so my next milestone is six months which is when I’ll have outlasted my predecessor’s predecessor.  My concern is that, as much as I’m determined to stay for at least my one year contract, six months can become a very long time if I’m going to have to constantly prove myself to my colleagues.  I don’t want to get to the end of my contract and have only just made friends with the people I work with.

A 45 minute heart to heart later and I think that my co-teacher is starting to come around.  I’ve reassured her that I’m really happy in Gunsan and I can keep telling people that but, at some point, they’re going to have to start to believe me.  When that might happen is anyone’s guess.  She thinks the rest of my colleagues will start to come around by Christmas so seven weeks to go then!  The most reassuring part of ‘the talk’, however, is when she tells me that several of the Korean staff have already commented to her that I seem to be very different to the other GETs they’ve had and that was all the result of 60 000 won worth of sweet potato bread that I shared with my colleagues last week! Long may it continue…

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