Friday, July 18, 2014

Last Day

“Good morning, UJ!”
“Teacher, last day!”
“Yes, today is my last day…”
Classes were canceled today (but of course) for student performances and the semester closing ceremony. I was disappointed that I couldn't have my last class with my first-years, but I had a lot of other stuff on my plate that I had to take care of, anyway. First on the list was a letter to the new teacher explaining everything about our school. I gave myself a week to finish it, and it ended up being 14 pages long. I also had to clean up the computers and my desk, which felt strange... and I ran around the school giving some teachers and students gifts at the last minute. Students kept coming into my office all day with goodbye letters they'd written for me, and I was very happy and grateful. But I was too busy to let my emotions take over.
"So you're leaving tomorrow?"
"Monday, actually."
"And you're never coming back?"
"No. Uh, I mean... well, I'll probably come back; I just don't know when."
"Wow..."
"You know, I always find that on important days, I'm not as emotional as I think I should be. What I mean is, after the day is over, I look back and think that I should have been more happy, or more sad."
"Well, I don't know. I think for me, I just want to act as I normally do. I wouldn't want my emotions to be dictated by my thoughts or expectations."
At the closing ceremony, I watched my students sing and dance for the last time... then awards were handed out, the principal gave a speech, and I gave some final words. Flashback to two years ago, when I looked out at 180 young faces for the first time and said, "안녕하십니까?" Seriously, two years ago?

My speech was short. I reiterated the three points I'd made (up on the spot) when I was interviewed for the school newspaper. What parting advice would I give my students? Number one: please try to get more sleep. Not in class, of course, but in your dormitories. Number two: although you are all bound to be high-achieving, successful people in the future, please remember that your worth, your value as a human being, cannot be measured by your academic performance. Remember that what is most important is not what school you go to or how much you make, but who you are inside. Number three: please keep in touch! Although I am saying goodbye, I prefer to say, "See you later." My eyes became a bit damp at the end, but I held actual tears at bay.
"Teacher, will I see you next semester?"
"No, you won't..."
"Oh, no... really?"
"I'm sorry!"
"Teacher, I almost cried when you talked... what was it? You said, 'remember your value'... I was so... ah... Teacher, I'll miss you!"
"건강하세요. Stay healthy and happy."
After the final bell rang, I paid one last visit to the hallway by the environmental science classroom, accompanied by the earth science teacher who was my gym buddy this past semester. He told me to stay healthy and gave me a hug. I said my goodbyes silently.
"Teacher, can we take a picture?"
"Of course! I love taking pictures!"
"Dear Andrew... I want to tell you something. When you were in this country, you made many people happy. At least the students of this school, could enjoy an english class every week. So, when you go back, you should be happy and proud of yourself that you gave us a big present i love, and a nice memory. I hope whenever you think of Korea, you feel really nice. Thank you for your existance!

Sincerely,
SJ"

That's when I cried. Finally. As I sat on my bed at home with farewell letters all around me and the rain and thunder going nuts outside. I was so touched, so blown away by the affection of people I've only known for a short time. Everyone wants to be able to make a difference in others' lives, and to be validated like this, with such genuine, heartfelt gratitude from a student, was just the thing to get this stoic to shed a tear.

I will miss this... but I won't say goodbye.

See you later!

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