My favorite holiday has always been Thanksgiving. It’s like Christmas without the obligatory presents. And its strictly dedicated to eating. As I got older, I came to appreciate more the idea of giving thanks for the blessings in life, making the holiday all the more sweet. Growing up in a large family, with endless cousins and aunts and uncles, Thanksgiving was usually a big affair. And, there was usually a kids’ table.
I always hated this.
As an only child and an introvert, I preferred the company of adults, especially if they were of the quieter variety. In a sea of loud talking relatives, a quiet adult for a child to be near can be a life-raft. The kids’ table was the antithesis of a life-raft. It was drowning. And no one would save me, except an empty plate.
But sometimes, I’d luck out, and one of the adults would join us kids, immediately upgrading the coolness and sanity of the kids’ table.
Come to the Table
The last communion I took in Texas was in June. My church has always (or at least as long as I’ve been there) taken communion the first Sunday of the month. I missed July’s communion because I was visiting family in Austin. We had our own communion. Homemade barbecued ribs were involved, which I think is Biblical enough for some circumstances. As one of the sacraments, communion is usually my favorite Sunday, even if the sermons are shorter because of this. And for years, I’ve secretly wished we could have it every Sunday. But with a church as big as ours, I understand it’s a slight logistical issue. Every Sunday I take communion, there’s a renewal in my heart that’s more meaningful than just prayer or worship alone. But on communion Sundays, we pray, we worship, and we are invited to the table. All of us sinners are invited to feast with our Lord. Actually, if we want to get technical, he came to feast with us. He came to the kids’ table.
Yes, all sinners.
Professing, believing sinners. Hookers. Tax-collectors. Alcoholics. Drug addicts. Do-gooders. Busy-bees. The sick. The lame. The American teachers. We’re all invited to come to the table.
Come to the Classroom
My first week as a new teacher proved to be considerably stressful, for none of the reasons going back to work after a summer off usually is. For one thing, my management are Koreans, and all speak with a very thick Korean accent. Accents never bother me; I love them because it’s a sign of the beauty of our differences as people. But when I need to learn information quickly and am repeatedly asking for my superiors to repeat themselves or to clarify their tenses, it can be exhausting. And as I’ve learned for them, embarrassing. However, in order to ensure I understand them, I must repeatedly clarify.
There are some cultural issues as well. I’m usually the sort who needs to verbalize directions back to someone to double check myself, but this is not the norm in Korea. It’s also not the norm for the English teachers to handle discipline. Or speak with the parents directly. Direct questions don’t happen; a simple yes or no doesn’t exist. It’s always grey with an explanation that dances around the yes or the no. Because if someone said yes to a question and then later realized they should have said no, they have to go back on their word, and lose all respectful character and face. I understand the desire to not lie. It’s never been in my nature to lie. Just ask any boss who’s watched me indirectly throw myself under the bus just so the truth is told. I’d rather be in trouble than lie. But I wish the Koreans would know the power of an apology, and how much respect it can garner from someone below them. In Western culture, we value leaders when they are humble and can admit when they’re wrong. In Eastern culture, they value leaders because they’re great, and cannot do any wrong. Here, humility is for the employee only, not the employer as well.
As a teacher who is used to wonderful administration who has understood my need to introvert out or be allowed to get creative with her lesson plans, it’s been wonderful. I’ve been given permission to lead the way in my classroom, and their humility in stepping back and allowing me the freedom to develop my craft as a teacher has been life-giving. I never felt more alive or capable as a teacher than my last year at Carter. And it was through that, I witnessed how to be with my students, how to develop relationships with them. It wasn’t always perfect, and it rarely is with 140 students, but I built upon it a little more each year.
Valuing the relationships with the students has become so instinctual that it’s still my main focus, especially with my Kindy students. There’s a lot of talk about respect and ways to show that. Already, I’m seeing some changes in the students’ behavior toward one another as well as toward me. I know I’m doing good things in my classroom. But I’m being met with heavy criticism by the Korean staff, in the most round about of ways. For everything I get right, I get five other things wrong. I am but a humble English teacher; I cannot change the culture of an entire nation, and have no aims to do so. I know all of these feelings have to do with the culture and the fact that while I may understand in my head, I do not in my heart, and changing my actions is not automatic yet. Changing my actions is still foreign and still opposite of what my heart and instincts say to do.
Come to Jesus
Hard and painful doesn’t begin to describe this. I feel like a mess. I’ve nearly angry-cried several times, I want to lash out and tell someone off, all of my usual tools of defense. But I know from past experiences, no one wins when I lash out, and I’m rarely heard when I cry. At best I’m pitied, at worst I’m brushed off or told how wrong I am. In short, right now I’m at my worst. And there’s nothing worse than being at your worst.
To top it off, my closest friends and loved ones, the ones who know me and support me the most, are 14 hours behind me. When I’m leaving work, they’re getting up, and are probably in no state to talk about Korean culture shock. My colleagues are somewhat supportive, but we’re all still getting to know one another. It’s been a fairly lonely two weeks. For what feels like the bazillionth time, if it weren’t for my relationship with Christ, I’d be lost.
Come to Itaewon
There have been a lot of new foods in the last four weeks. Fried pork, rice with everything, mystery soups at school, lotus plant, grass, Korean miso soup, fish cake, fish shaped ice cream cones, milk ice, red bean paste for dessert, the most wonderful peach smoothies, Korean BBQ, and, in a very wonderful part of Seoul, Mexican food. Eating out is relatively cheap here, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have colleagues who are foodies.
After my first week at a church, which left me very disheartened, my new Korean friend, Maria (that’s her English name) took me to a church in Itaewon, a very international neighborhood in Seoul. It’s about an hour and a half’s trek by subway, but I’ve found it gives me time to think and prepare my heart for church. It’s a church plant, which means the church is new and is currently meeting in a boardroom at a hotel in the neighborhood. It’s a very small and very simple gathering of people, but the church is good and solid.
Come to Sing Thy Grace
Through being at this church, the Lord is answering myriad of prayers. There are mostly English speakers. There are internationals. There is a wide array of ages. There are people who hunger to know God better. There are people who deeply care about God’s people and want to know them. Years ago, I prayed to be a part of a church plant; because He’s not without a sense of humor, God put me in a mega church that year. But here I am now, seeing that prayer answered. Also, there is communion. Every Sunday.
After the service, we then hold a luncheon, which serves as a different form of bread breaking, but still a valuable one. But spiritually, no matter how much we children of God struggle to get life right, we’re still welcome. Every single one of us. The musicians. The busy pastors and their wives. The students. The military men and women. The American teachers.
I fail, week after week, to get life in Korea right, but I’m still invited to come to eat at the table.
It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s true.
I guess the least I can do is say grace.