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A Seoulful Experience
By Jacquelyn M. Tisdale

 

A dragon in the heart of the city

"Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?"   Chris Tucker, Rush Hour .

I was only back in the states for two months when I received a phone call one day requesting my assistance.   I had placed my resume online seeking a teaching position in the Philadelphia.   I had been interviewing with several institutions but nothing compared with the offer I received on the phone.   They offered free housing, relocation compensations, healthcare, a small taxed salary, and a round-trip airfare ticket.   I thought this was a great opportunity.   The only thing was that I had to travel over 6,000 miles form my place of origin.   I had to relocate to a new country, South Korea.   I slept on the idea and the next week I agreed to take the job.  

 

"A whole new world, a dazzling place I never knew..."Aladdin, Walt Disney

.

A shot of the Seoul skyline

I had three weeks to prepare for my departure to South Korea, from the date I accepted the offer.   I told my family who were supportive and not that surprised.   I had just returned from a three-month trip to Ghana.   I had sent all my important documents for proper entry into the country.   I was slapped with a $67.00 FedEx bill, this trip better be worth it I thought.   I knew then I was going to be a long way from home.   I did some research on Korea prior to my departure to familiarize myself with the culture.   I was content with my decision and had an open-mind.   My family and I had a Karaoke (Nore Bong) Party the day before I left.   I wanted to have a Korean experience with them before I left.   I was not going to be alone because Justin, my best friend/boyfriend, was accompanying me on this journey.   We were going to embark on a new adventure.   Who would have thought that two young adults from North Philadelphia inner city would make Korea their home for a year?

 

  I stepped off the plane and it was like technology heaven.   Everything was super modern.   My new boss picked me up from the airport and drove me to my new place.   Justin was coming over the next week.   My boss is a short Korean man who was a fast talker.   We arrived at my place and I was amazed at how modern Korea was compared to some of the pictures I looked at.   Uh-oh, a single bed, but I requested a queen and I was promised it.   I knew then it was the beginning of a rocky road.   Justin accompanied me the next week.   He was just as amazed on how modern Korea looked, compared to what we imagined.   Neon lights, skyscrapers, everyone looking like they are modeling for Dolce Gabana and Prada.   It was as if I was in downtown Manhattan all the time.

 

"America, America.   God shed his grace.."   America the Beautiful .

I had committed myself to a year of teaching American English (yes there are many dialects of English.)   I never knew how much our language affected the world until I was offered a position in Korea.   There are so many countries requesting Native English speakers to commit at least a year to teach their children English.   Globalization at its best people.   Anyway, I decided to offer some expertise as a natural speaker of English.   It is funny I received a degree in Physics, worked as a high school math/cultural studies teacher in   Philadelphia, PA, and now I teach English.   I was in store for a rude awakening.  

 

The children I teach are well behaved, much like most students in Korea.   They value education and are forced to attend school all day literally.   I work at a Hagwon (private language institute).   Students got to regular school from 8:00am-2:00pm and then they are required to attend various private academies after school between 3:00pm-10:00pm.   Then they are expected to do homework when they get home.   I know most eleven-year-old students who are doing homework until 11:30pm.   Korean students have excellent work ethics and mannerism to adults; however, they lack social skills.   Most ESL teachers like me responsibilities consist of teaching proper pronunciation of words.   We mostly conduct speaking emphasis lessons with reinforcement in grammar.   It is a call and response method of teaching.   It is very effective.   This teaching job teaches the students, in addition to helping improve your English skills.   The only thing is that my vocabulary diminishes slightly because I am forced to speak elementary the majority of the time.   Language barrier is really an issue for me.

 

I mentioned earlier about my single bed versus a queen bed.   Well, that was an administration call at my job.   I found out by the end of my first week that this institution had no policies and that they changed face without warning.   They talk behind your back and smile in your face.   They were very inconsistent with rules and regulations.   It was and nightmare.   We needed some order and we fought for it.   It is still rather tense, but it is functional.   I was grateful to have a few co-workers who also shared the same concerns.   

 

"Hey sister.   Seoul sister.   Gotta let you..."Lady Marmalade

Amirtha, Jacquie, Jay and Kay

Yeah that is right.   I am a Seoul Sista and I had to start Seoul searching.   I asked the Creator every night,"Why am I here?"   My boss lied to me, the administration is dysfunctional, and on top of that, there is underlying prejudice.   Koreans perception of Dark tone people are not good. They look at East Indian people as servant level or just migrant worker level.   They do not have a high regard for African Americans especially males.   They think that we are not intelligent and the men are gangsters.   Now, my job hired me but they used to talk to me as if I was incapable of comprehending anything.   The images of people from African or East Indian descent are of impoverished, illiterate, or violent conditions.  

I always looked forward to the weekend when Justin, Kay (African American sister in the picture ), and Amirtha (Sri Lankan sister in the picture ) visit Sontan or Seoul. It is there we can escape the ignorant Korean society and submerge into a blissful day of colorful people.   Sontan is a famous town in South Korea that is next to the largest American Air Force Base.   There are many people of color from America, Africa, and Asia.   The nightclubs are good, but they close early because of the Army's curfew.   The music is Hip-Hop and reggae mostly.   In Itaewon   (a neighborhood in Seoul) has an array of cultures.   We frequent Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian food a lot.   There is also a West African restaurant located there.   It is like walking in Harlem around 116 th St or West Philadelphia in the University City area.   There is so much to do in Seoul and the Koreans there are a little more receptive to foreigners because there are a lot of us there.   I reflect and I prepare for my next challenging week as I leave either place.   I remember those precious moments because they are vital in my everyday sanity.

 

"If you look at my life, you'll see what I see." My Life, Mary J. Blige

A bridge made of rocks

I know that there is a purpose and a reason for this experience. I learned so much in my first 90 days.   Even though I encounter a series of challenges, the people I met and Justin by my side makes the stay enjoyable. I reflect on the good everyday, and I leave impressions on my students.   They will have a different outlook on the darker hue people. I consistently talk about the positive of my culture in America and Africa. I do not allow mismanagement or prejudice interfere with my work. I came to Korea to share my knowledge and learn a culture. It is I will continue to fulfill my mission until I embark on a new quest.

 

 

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