On the last day of school, I am sitting at my desk, drinking Korean instant coffee and reading news stories and my friends' blogs. Students are running around the halls outside, screaming and yelling their goodbyes at each other. In a few minutes, the closing ceremony will be held, and winter vacation will begin.
First stop is a buffet lunch downtown with the school faculty, and then I'm off to visit a friends in Iksan and Seoul. When I return from my first solo trip out of town in six weeks (I haven't seen any of my Fulbright friends in person since our Thanksgiving dinner), a stack of books several feet high will be waiting for me! So will my last two graduate school applications, preliminary planning for my spring semester research project, and, hopefully, seasons four through six of Parks and Recreation.
While I'm looking forward to staying busy and productive over the break, it's been oddly peaceful at school this past week. Actually, all of December was kind of a breeze. I've spent this month administering speaking tests, throwing class parties, and deskwarming; during final exams last week, I chilled in my office planning my vacation travels. Since Monday, I have prepared for six classes but only seen two (and one of them was a movie party) due to scheduling changes, Christmas, and the school festival throwing everything into chaos. Chaos for the administration, I mean. For me, it just means a lot of down time.
I've spent some of that time comparing where I am now to where I was one year ago. In 2012, went home for Christmas and didn't attend the school festival. The apocalypse came and went; I did not have any concrete plans for the future; my grandfather was alive and kicking. This year, I attended my grandfather's funeral. I have spent the past two months applying to grad school (and the past six worrying about it). The Earth continued to revolve around the sun even as disaster, tragedy, and war deepened its fissures. And I now have over one full year of teaching experience at Changwon Science High School. 117 students I have taught for three semesters will graduate and go to college next March; 82 new freshmen will arrive to take their place.
It only took me a few months last autumn to fall in love with my school and my students. So, one year later, I have a richer understanding of gratitude toward this small community. Of course, this understanding comes hand-in-hand with the end of the honeymoon period. There have been times when I've witnessed firsthand how ridiculous school politics can be, seen the stress of an intense and merciless curriculum take its toll on these teenagers, been hurt by linguistic and cultural misunderstandings.
But, when all is said and done, I have had an eye-opening and life-fulfilling experience here. At this moment in my life, there is nothing I would rather be doing. Yesterday's school festival was one example of the small joys that make being here worthwhile, even worth missing Christmas with my family. I'll write about it in more detail later, but suffice it to say that I'm happy in the here and now. I welcome winter vacation with as much gusto as the next teacher; however, for reasons including but not limited to I'm tired of cold weather already, next March couldn't come sooner!