Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It's Time to Say Goodbye

Todays article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. A new topic and various articles will be posted on the 5th of every month, so be sure to check back.

For this month's blog carnival we were asked to write a letter professing our love to the one place we love the most. I've done something similar for my new home once before so I considered picking a new location, but as my time here in Buksam is coming to a fast approaching end, I thought it only appropriate to give it one more mention.

Buksam: the sprawling rice-fields, local farms, small town shops, and friendly locals - my safe haven in this rapidly changing, fast paced country.

When I was first told, two years ago, that I would be teaching High School in a small town just outside of Gumi I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. My first impression came through the eyes of a friend, "Korea is great, I just hope you don't get placed in Gumi". Uh oh. I was soon being picked up by my co-teacher, rushed through E-mart and dropped at my apartment, welcome home. It took a few weeks, but I quickly settled into and began adapting to my new environment, and not too much longer after that is where the love story began.

No matter the season, this view never got old 

The people in Buksam started flirting with me from early on. Somehow the questioning glances I received welcomed me to the new town, rather than making me feel like an outsider. I sensed interest in their stares, "Who is this new person?". There were the children who welcomed me with cheerful smiles (often accompanied by their their "Waegookin!" shouts, of course), friendly ajummas - yes friendly (while the rest of the country complained of their harshness and shoving) and many helpful workers (should they be able to speak English or not). I remember the woman at 7/11 intently explaining to me how to use and recharge my bus card, instructing me to come back to her for help when it runs out. I've now seen her nearly every day as I pass by the store, drop in to pick up packages, grab my morning coffee or an evening beer, and even discovered that I freak her out by sitting on the edge of my roof, sorry.

This place isn't so bad

Speaking of, my roof is the place where these feelings of love intensified. Yes, silly as it may seem I found my own little patch of heaven on the green concrete slabs, of the top of my building. Sitting up there I was separated from everything and everyone below, I could look down and observe the town. I found it as an amazing place to practice yoga, read a book, bathe in the sun, enjoy my lunch or dinner and hold a few cook-outs with friends. As the winter weather set in, not only did I scoff the cold but I lamented at the fact that my outdoor escape would soon be shut down for a few moths.

Can't beat these rooftop views                           Not a bad place for sitting to relax either            

And you can't forget the yoga

My roof was not the only place I found serenity in Buksam, the sprawling rice fields and rolling mountains taught me a new love for the outdoors. My students and teachers alike would laugh at Buksam and complain about there being nothing to do, but you just have to be creative. The concrete paths through the rice fields and around town taught me a love for running, leading me to completely my first half-marathon, a feat I forever thought was impossible. 혀자봉, located conveniently between my home and apartment, enhanced my new found love of hiking and proved to be a great, free gym.

How could I not love running here?

Same goes for the hiking

I couldn't write this love letter without mentioning, thanking and cherishing the key player of it all, the staff, students and experiences had at Buksam High School. The thought of leaving it all in a few short weeks is something I don't even want to face, but remembering how much I've been blessed during my time here brings an immediate smile and sense of warmth to my heart. My staff, and not only the English speaking members, have always treated me with kindness and sincerity. I've always felt like part of the team, despite language barriers and through moments of awkward silence or confusion. A few staff members, including my principal and co-teacher Anna, have treated me as a if I were a daughter of their own, inviting me into their home or out for dinner. I've received special treatment (trips to Jeju, days off, and little to no desk warming), which I can only attribute to my good attendance and hard work - their words not mine.

We've shared love songs, creative races, hiking and many more memories I will never forget 
I definitely got lucky in the principal department. 

Only foreign teacher I saw in Jeju all week ~~ I'm one lucky girl

Of course I couldn't finish my love affair without mentioning the students, likely the star of the show here. Like any school there are classes that drive me insane and make me want to walk out the door, but 10 times to 1 I love being at school and interacting with my kids. They bring entertainment to the days and have quickly become my friends. I'm lucky to have so many great kids that share joy and laughter, despite having to come to school during breaks and for nearly 14 hours a day, studying with no end in sight. My students have treated me as both a friend and a teacher, even making me feel like a celebrity at times. Although I haven't been present in their classroom for the past year, having to say goodbye and watching the 3rd graders graduate this Friday will be a proud but difficult moment for me. I've spent so many hours with these kids, welcoming some into my home, visiting them on the soccer field, and friending many on facebook, I know that, in a sense, they will be with me forever. I've had students tell me they will one day visit me in the USA while others have told me I must return to Korea for their wedding, not to mention the ones telling me I will one day be their wife. If it weren't for the students pleas I may not have stayed for the second year, and so to them, I am forever grateful.

Pasta party at my place^^

Staff and students that are out of this world                      I believe I win #1 fan award 

As if it weren't known to the world already, there it is, my love letter to Buksam - the small town I've grown to call home during my two years in Korea. As I prepare to leave I've noticed the town changing, new buildings going up, talks of a subway line coming into town, and of course new faces all around. I hope though, that the town is able to retain it's charm that I fell in love with.

Oh the memories

It's funny because I actually wrote an ode to Buksam, nearly two years ago, only three short months into my life here. To be able to look back and compare my thoughts, then and now, is pretty special, and in doing so it's clear to me that I knew I had wound up someplace special, right from the beginning.

This writing prompt from Reach to Teach could not have come at a more appropriate time. Causing me to stop and reflect on my life, shortly before packing it up and moving away, is just what I needed to do. Not only am I moving on from Korea but i'm also leaving this blog. No fears though, you can continue to follow my adventures at my new blog: Yogifootprints where I hope to be half as entertaining and maybe a little informative as well.

With Love,


  1. You're right Stephanie - reading this made me cry. To think that when you first told me you wanted to go to Korea to teach, I was not in favor of that idea. It turns out, you ARE smarter than your Mother. Through you, I was provided the opportunity to visit Korea and to see firsthand what, who and why you fell in love with this incredibly beautiful country. And the Korean people are a group of the most friendly, respectfull and sincere people I have ever met. I am SO glad that I have a small glimpse of the joy and love you were able to experience. You ARE very fortunate to have spent two years with these wonderful people. This was an incredible opportunity for you....I'm sure the first of many to come.

  2. This was a great read.
    You are a prime example of how teachers shouldn't listen to what everybody else says about a place and that every person is capable of carving out their own experiences. What a positive story you tell. A very happy read :)

  3. Loved reading your reflections on your time in South Korea, Steph-- so excited to see what's up next for you!

  4. Hi, I won't even know if you'll see this because this I think this was your last entry, and it's been nearly a year but I wanted to say this inspired me. You're a complete stranger and this might sound weird but I really appreciate this. I want to become a pediatric nurse but i've always wanted to teach for a few years in korea because 1. I think it's a great oppurtunity and experience, 2. I am great with children and teaching is something i would've considered if not for the whole pediatric nurse thing. But since i don't know much about korea i've been limiting myself to only seoul or maybe busan because i was scared that i wouldn't be able to connect with anyone. Now that I see your blog it makes me wanna do what you did. You seemed to have an amazing time. I'm a senior in high school looking for colleges that have study abroad programs to South Korea right now and when looking at everyone online saying that koreans aren't friendly really discouraged me. Seeing how much you loved it made me fall back in love with korea. If you do see this i wanna ask if you ever visited again and where u moved back too??? Also if you have any advice for me. I hope you're still living an amazing life!!!! (my email is if by any chance you do answer back btw