Foreign Fever

Surveying the many attitudes and opinions of the native English teachers (i.e., foreigners) this weekend, I began to ask myself, “what kind of person leaves their country and culture to live and work (not just vacation) in another country and culture, why do they do that, and why are they teaching English?

Now, maybe my powers of observation are off the mark, but there seemed to be both a generational divide as well as a gender divide:   the older generation of English teachers seemed to be mostly men, and the older generation of teachers seemed to harbor the most resentment towards Korea, (and yet they stay for the opportunities) while also taking their jobs the most seriously. (and often without humor)  The younger men seemed to fall into two categories:  the alpha male type or the last in line for team sports line-up.  Some here to enjoy their foreign celebrity to the fullest, and the others hoping to enjoy any celebrity for the first time.  It just seemed that extreme to me, but again, maybe I’m sizing it up wrong.  The women, (most under 30) seemed to fall in between these extremes, and just seemed more adventurous and open-minded.  It also dawned on me, watching the paired team-taught lessons, that the majority of these people spent some portion of their lives at summer camp as counselors, so maybe there’s a correlation there.

For those not here merely to fill their gap year with a way of reducing their financial aid, living in a foreign country can be like a retreat:  retreat from all those psychic things which, after whatever many+ years can build up and weigh you down.  Only replacing that detritus with a fresh new culture, though exhilarating at first, can quickly play itself out.  It is the retreat that doesn’t end.  Devoid of your staple comforts.  In a strange place where you are abnormal yet must search to find normalcy.  The same you is still there, even if it’s in a new place.  The old pressures are gone, but they have been replaced with different ones.  And you can try to reinvent yourself, but the truth is, you can’t retreat from yourself.

The younger ones seem to be constantly checking their pulse.  Am I alive?  Must test my body until it is exhausted.  Yes.  Still alive.  They seem to be too busy hurtling themselves, full throttle, at life to spend a moment actually appreciating that they are.  Or what they are feeling.

However, the older ones seem to be constantly checking their temperature.  Am I dying?  What’s my temperature today?  How am I feeling?  This hour?  This second?  This neurotic checking prevents them from living.

And then there are those of us in the middle – committing some of both of the above.

Culture shock sends all of us foreigners into checking mode.  What is happening?  What do I do about it?  Constantly, we are asking ourselves these questions.  It reminds me of a guy I worked with who had PTSD, whose constant state of near panic was mostly self-induced by similar questions.  And even our solutions can turn into more checking:  blogging can turn into temperature checking, socializing can turn into comparison temperature checking, etc., etc.

There is another type as well – and that is the refugee.  The ones who can’t find a place anywhere where they fit in.

This week at the orientation I met this neurotic refugee  who was telling me – before I got here, I felt like this;  then I felt like that;  then I felt like this;  now I feel like this;  I’m so upset because a second ago I felt like that, but now I feel like this, but I want to feel like  (etc., etc., etc.)

All I could think was:  Lord, please don’t let me turn into this…

I don’t want to hurtle myself at Korea.  Neither do I want the shit kicked out of me by Korea.  I just want things – friends / love – to come naturally – and though I know it is the same socially inept girl here that was in America, please let me not be so preoccupied with my silly things like – What’s MY NAME / Is my family still alive / etc –  that I miss them this time.

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